After two and a half years of painful negotiations, the European Union voted on Tuesday in favour of a controversial set of copyright rules that could change the way the internet works.
Under the final deal, tech giants will have to negotiate licensing agreements with rights holders to publish their content as well as scan their video-sharing platforms to remove any copyright-protected content that fails to uphold these rules.
“This directive is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on,” EU rapporteur Axel Voss said.
“This is a directive which protects people’s living, safeguards democracy by defending a diverse media landscape, entrenches freedom of expression, and encourages start-ups and technological development. It helps make the internet ready for the future, a space which benefits everyone, not only a powerful few.”
The EU Parliament adopted the proposal with 348 votes in favour and 274 against. The text now needs a formal approval by European ministers and will then have to be transposed into national legislation by individual member states.
The legislative project has been one of the most fought over. Opponents of a compromise hoped to strip the text of a section originally known as Article 13 and later redubbed Article 17, which governs the commercial relationship between the creative industry and platforms such as Google’s YouTube.
In Germany – a country where freedom of speech is a particularly sensitive topic given the country’s authoritarian past – tens of thousands of people took to the streets over the weekend to protest the controversial overhaul. Chancellor Angela Merkel's governing coalition was split over the reform.
Proposals to delete so-called Article 13 were not put to a vote in the European Parliament.
Rights-holders such as record companies, collecting societies and media companies have accused media giants like YouTube and Google News of taking a "free ride" by using content created by others.
Supporters say reform is necessary to protect the rights of creative workers. Over 200 copyright groups banded together on social media and tweeted using the hashtag #Yes2Copyright.
Among those who support stronger copyright rules, however, many took an issue with Article 13.
Opponents of Article 13 fear the new regulations will lead to the removal of some lawful content and open a Pandora box that could eventually lead to a surveillance state.
“Article 13 brings with it the very real prospect that internet users across Europe will soon no longer be able to access swathes of content they've been accustomed to,” Simon Migliano, head of research at Top10VPN.com, said. “Article 13 brings with it the very real prospect that internet users across Europe will soon no longer be able to access swathes of content they've been accustomed to.”
A #SaveYourInternet campaign was launched to demand European representatives to delete Article 13. A petition, dubbed Stop the Censorship Machine!, reached nearly 5.1 million signatures.