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24 October 2018

Proposed EU copyright changes: is this the death of the internet?

The EU Parliament backed a proposal from MEP’s to implement new copyright laws. The proposed Copyright Directive is an effort by the EU to revolutionise its copyright laws, however, whilst the legislation has been amended since it was voted down in July, the contents of the new legislation have continued to be controversial.

The EU Parliament’s decision to back the new copyright laws was welcomed by musicians and artists but heavily criticised by journalists and internet platforms who believe the new proposed copyright laws to be too restrictive and to “herald the death of the internet”.

The controversies around the proposed new law arise in relation to two key areas

1. ‘Link tax’

The legislation seeks to establish a “link tax” on internet platforms for sharing user generated content that contains others’ creative works. This effectively means that all content contained in any link or reference to other material (such as memes and news stories) would firstly require the internet platform to obtain a license before it could be shared. This is aimed at giving publishers a method of making money when websites such as Google link to their stories.

2. ‘Upload filter’

The proposed legislation seeks to create an “upload filter” which provides that all platforms “storing and giving access to large amounts of works and other subject-matter uploaded by their users” are responsible for any copyright infringement performed by its users. This will effectively require platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to proactively scan content to prevent users from sharing unlicensed copyrighted material. The fear is that this will cause potentially significant costs to internet platforms and could hinder users’ freedom of expression.

The Copyright Directive is due to receive final approval by the EU Parliament in January 2019. It is clear that it will have a significant impact on the balance of power held by large tech companies such as Google and YouTube over the internet. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is to be debated.

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