The European Parliament voted on 26 March 2019 in favour of the controversial EU Copyright Directive, which will implement sweeping changes to regulation around online copyright. MEPs voted in favour of the compromise text as agreed on 13 February 2019 (previously discussed here). The Directive was approved by 348 votes to 274, concluding one of the most contested and intensely lobbied law proposals in recent years. A last minute vote on debating amendments to the reforms (in relation to Articles 11 and 13) was also rejected by just five votes. The text approved by Parliament can be accessed here.

Articles 11 and 13 Remain

Despite setbacks, the final text includes the most controversial clauses, namely Articles 11 and 13 (now Articles 15 and 17).

  • Article 11 lets publishers charge service providers for the digital use of their news articles (including snippets) for a two year term. Despite being known as the “link tax”, hyperlinks to news articles (accompanied by words or very short extracts) can be shared freely online.
  • Article 13, known commonly as the “upload filter”, has sparked protests across Germany over the past month against what is perceived as online censorship. Put simply, service providers will be legally responsible for user-generated content that they host in the EU and will be responsible for removing content that is in breach of copyright. It remains to be seen how the legislation and this platform-policing will be implemented in practice. However, it will likely require all service providers to obtain licences from copyright holders and install “upload filters” to prevent and remove copyrighted material illegally uploaded to their platforms.

The Future of Memes?

Article 13 initially prompted fears over the future of memes and GIFs (images, animations or short video clips). The European Parliament has confirmed that they are specifically excluded from the new rules and will continue to be available and shareable “for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche“. However, there are still concerns that if automated filters are implemented, such filters may be unable to distinguish between legitimate creative content and a copyrighted photo used for satire.

Next Steps

Once the final wording of the Copyright Directive has been endorsed by the European Council, it will be published in the Official Journal and will become law. Member States will then have two years to transpose and enact the reforms into their national legislation. It remains to be seen how the new laws will be implemented on a country by country basis. It’s also unclear what this will mean for the UK given the uncertainty around Brexit.