Europe Adopts New Online Copyright Rules

By a vote of 348 to 274, on March 26, 2019 the European Parliament passed a directive that requires websites to license copyrighted material posted on their websites. Each EU country now has two years to turn the directive into law. Although these laws will apply only in the EU, affected companies may choose to apply the directive globally just as some, including Microsoft, have announced they will apply EU privacy regulations outside of Europe. The new directive is, however, likely to be challenged. Siada El Ramly, the director general of EDiMA, a trade group representing the interests of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Airbnb, and Twitter in Europe, said the law left too much room for interpretation and would be challenged in court.

Articles 11 and 13 are the most controversial. Article 11 requires search engines and news aggregate platforms to pay publishers a licensing fee for displaying excerpts of news stories, with the exception of “individual words or very short extracts.” Article 13 requires websites with more than five million unique monthly visitors to, rather than waiting to receive a complaint before removing copyrighted content, proactively make their “best effort” to either obtain authorization from the copyright owner, or remove it. Article 13 does not apply to cloud storage services, or to quotations, criticism, parody and artistic interpretation, including memes and GIFs.

The music industry, book publishers, news media and others in the creative industries argued that the law was long-overdue and would allow them to regain control over their copyrighted material by providing leverage to force internet giants like Google and Facebook to license the copyrighted material they shared online.

Internet giants, tech industry trade groups, and digital rights activists argued that the law would limit the sharing of information. They also argued that, given the huge amount of online content, available filtering systems were incapable of proactive monitoring. Indeed, although Google claims to have spent $100 million last year developing YouTube’s filtering system, it has a history of blocking noninfringing content. Faced with these filtering challenges, Google chose to discontinue making Google News available in Spain after it passed a law similar to Article 13.

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