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Reform of copyright law voted in by EU parliament

27 Mar 2019 / EU Print

Reform of copyright law voted in by EU parliament

The European Parliament yesterday voted by 348 to 274 votes to update copyright law making internet companies legally responsible for the content on their platforms.

There were 36 abstentions.

“Parliament has chosen to put an end to the existing digital Wild West by establishing modern rules that are in step with technological development,” EU parliament President Antonio Tajani said after the vote.

This is the first overhaul of EU copyright law since 2001, before the launch of YouTube or Facebook.

Legally responsible

If enacted by Member States, the changes mean tech platforms will become legally responsible for content on their sites.

EU Member States are expected to approve the rules next month, which would mean they would go into effect within two years.

Until now, tech giants such as Facebook have insisted they are platforms rather than publishers and have not taken editorial responsibility for the material on their sites.

If the changes to the rules are enacted, then digital sites will have to take a more active role in oversight of their content.

Those who have advocated for copyright reforms, such as singer-songwriter and Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO) chair Eleanor McEvoy, believe that tech companies’ failure to pay for original content is damaging creative industries.

She has led the Irish campaign for tech platforms to properly reimburse creative artists for use of their original works online.

Transfer of value

Campaigners believe that creative industries are being damaged by the ‘transfer of value’ that occurs when original works are mined for online content.

Nicknamed the “link tax”, Article 11 will mean aggregators must pay licensing fees when they excerpt content as they link.

News aggregators such as Google News, which operate by using bots to search content published by news organisations and then linking to it in keyword search results, may have to pay publishers.

Publishers such as Agence France-Presse (AFP) have backed reform, in order to safeguard quality journalism and staunch the haemorrhaging earnings of traditional media companies.

The reform, if properly implemented by Member States "can help to maintain journalism in the field, which all evidence shows is still the best way to combat misinformation," said AFP CEO Fabrice Fries. 


Video platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, may become liable for material that violates copyright law.

EU law is at variance from US rules which give impunity to online platforms, within certain platforms such as timely takedowns where copyright is infringed and penalties for repeat offenders.

There was strong lobbying ahead of the vote with opponents arguing that this change signifies a fundamental shift in how the Internet operates.

Broadly speaking, creative artists, news publishers and other content creators were in favour while it was opposed by ‘digital freedom’ campaigners along with the tech firms.

Link tax

Article 11, dubbed the “link tax” or “snippet tax” by critics, would require aggregators to pay

The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), representing tech giants such as Amazon, Facebook and Google, said a tax on excerpting news stories “risks restricting freedom of information online.”

It believes the new copyright rules will increase “the incentives for platforms to over-filter and over-remove users’ uploads.”


“We fear it will harm online innovation and restrict online freedoms in Europe. We urge Member States to thoroughly assess and try to minimize the consequences of the text when implementing it,” the CCIA’s Maud Sacquet said after the vote.

A Google statement said “The Copyright Directive is improved but will still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies. The details matter, and we look forward to working with policy makers, publishers, creators and rights holders as EU Member States move to implement these new rules.”


"I know there are lots of fears about what users can do or not - now we have clear guarantees for freedom of speech, teaching and online creativity," Commission Vice President Andrus Ansip said.

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland