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TechUK blasts European Parliament-backed revamp of EU-wide copyright laws

Tech industry trade body claims the changes spell bad news for web users, after European Parliament MEPs vote in favour of plans to modernise the copyright laws for the digital age

TechUK has expressed disappointment over the outcome of the European Parliament’s vote on the controversial Copyright Directive, which saw 438 MEPs vote in favour of pushing ahead with it.

The directive, which 226 MEPs voted against, is billed by the European Commission as a means of modernising copyright laws across all EU member states, in acknowledgement of how people share and distribute content has changed in the digital age.

It has several broad objectives, which include enabling greater cross-border access to copyright-protected content for European citizens, and ensuring such content is more widely available for educators, researchers and cultural heritage advocates to use.

It is also considered to be a key component of the Commission’s plans to create a single marketplace for digital services within the European Union through the Digital Single Market initiative.

In a joint statement, Andrus Ansip, Digital Single Market vice-president, and Mariya Gabriel, Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, said – with the vote concluded – the intention is to have the directive approved by the end of 2018.

“Our aim for this reform is to bring tangible benefits for EU citizens, researchers, educators, writers, artists, press and cultural heritage institutions and to open up the potential for more creativity and content by clarifying the rules and making them fit for the digital world,” the joint statement reads.

“At the same time, we aim to safeguard free speech and ensure that online platforms – including 7,000 European online platforms – can develop new and innovative offers and business models. We are fully committed to working with the co-legislators in order to achieve a balanced and positive outcome enabling a true modernisation of the copyright legislation that Europe needs.”

Read more about EU digital directives

MEPs originally voted down the directive, which was first tabled for discussion in September 2016, earlier this summer, after critics aired concerns over the workability of two Articles covered off in the directive.

These include Article 11, which puts forward the idea that news sites should be able to charge web firms for sharing links to their content, and Article 13, which also puts the onus on them to work with copyright holders to prevent users from uploading content they do not own the rights to.

It is understood that some of the criticisms levelled at these Articles have now been addressed by legislators since MEPs voted against the directive’s content in July 2018, but Giles Derrington, head of policy at techUK, said it still remains to be seen how these measures will benefit Europe’s digital economy.

“Far from advancing the European digital economy through the Digital Single Market, the proposals adopted by the European Parliament will lead to significant additional burdens on companies seeking to serve the European market,” he said.

“It is bad news, not just for UK digital businesses, but also for the general public who now risk seeing their freedoms online being restricted.”

Content filters

In reference to Article 13, it has been proposed that content filters could be used to help web firms clamp down on users sharing copyrighted content, but Derrington said the impact this could have on how people use the web does not appear to have been taken into account.

“Requirements for platforms to filter all user uploaded content will likely result in a reduced user experience and the over-removal of legitimate content. The creation of a new neighbouring right for press publishers will make sharing news articles online more difficult, making it harder for the public to find good quality journalism online,” he said.

“The proposals will now enter interinstitutional negotiations with the European Commission and European Council where there is an opportunity for further compromise. TechUK urges the negotiators to take any steps possible to protect the open internet during these discussions.”

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