EU approves controversial new copyright directive

Digital freedom
2 mins
A copyright symbol surrounded by yellow stars on a blue background

Bad news: The European Parliament has voted in a highly controversial update to the Copyright Directive, which includes new copyright rules that will effectively dismantle the way content is shared online.

It’s now up to the member states of the EU to approve the vote. And, if they do, countries in the EU will have two years to implement the new Copyright Directive in national law, which will almost certainly include the introduction of a link tax and upload filters.

Mistake means Article 13 passed

On March 26, the final version of the new Copyright Directive—updated to regulate more modern technologies—was voted into law by 348 members of European Parliament, while 274 voted against.

It turns out, however, that the two most controversial parts of the law, Articles 11 and 13, might have been stripped out of the law had it not been for a mistake in the voting. Yes, really. (Several lawmakers later said that they accidentally voted to block amendments to the directive when they actually intended to do the opposite, because of a little-noticed change in the voting order.)

A new form of censorship in the making

As a result of the error, both Article 11 and Article 13 passed, and while the EU’s attempt to update copyright rules may be well-intentioned, its implementation could see the creation of an increasingly censored internet.

Article 11 enables news agencies to charge aggregators like Google News and Google Search to link to their content and could penalize aggregators that don’t comply.

If previous attempts are any indication, this link tax could backfire spectacularly on the EU. Germany and Spain tried to license their news sites back in 2014, but Google responded by removing German and Spanish news sites from their index, which ended up hurting those that the laws were meant to protect.

In response to the directive, Google released a prototype of what its news snippet might look like under Article 11, and the result is pretty dire.

A screenshot of Google News showing blank snippets.

Article 13’s requirement for companies to remove copyrighted material on content-sharing websites could also prove difficult on scales as large as YouTube’s.

The directive doesn’t explicitly mention any content filters, but they will almost certainly be implemented on sites such as YouTube and Reddit so the companies can avoid any financial penalties.

Parodies remain exempt from the copyright rule, which appears to protect our much-loved memes. But this will make it incredibly difficult for filters to tell the difference between parodies and actual copyrighted material. Take one look at YouTube’s faulty Content ID system and you get an idea of how problematic identifying parodies will become.

As this response to the EU Commission sums up nicely:

Article 13 is in effect

Pushing the Copyright Directive into national law will be difficult. “This outcome is unpopular with digital services, and importantly, many European voters,” Raffaella De Santis, technology and media lawyer at Harbottle & Lewis, told The Verge. “The key focus now will be on how the directive is implemented across the EU over the next two years.”

While European citizens will have to wait and see what sort of laws are incoming, ExpressVPN will continue to work on providing what should already be your right: an internet free from restrictions.

Ceinwen focused on digital privacy, censorship, and surveillance, and has interviewed leading figures in tech.