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European Parliament votes to back controversial 'Article 11' and 'Article 13' copyright reform proposals

By William Gallagher

Members of the European Parliament have approved legislation to revise copyright laws in a decision that has both angered and relieved some internet users because of conditions it may place on content providers.

The European Parliament in Strasburg where today's vote was held

This directive was originally blocked in July because of criticism over two controversial elements called Articles 11 and 13. These have been revised since that draft but remain substantially as they were.

Article 11 is concerned with "protection of press publications concerning digital uses" and opponents say it amounts to a tax on sharing articles. It's being called a "Link Tax" and the directive does concern "fair and proportionate enumeration."

However, Article 11 also explicitly states that this "shall not extend to acts of hyperlinking."

Article 13 is about the misuse of copyright works with users uploading material they don't have rights to. Opponents including Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the web, have lobbied the European Union, arguing that Article 13 will cause "damage... to the free and open internet as we know it".

The aim of the directive, though, is specifically to target commercial platforms whose main purpose is to provide access to this material.

In an open email to Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, Berners-Lee and others maintain that this isn't enough.

"In particular, far from only affecting large American Internet platforms (who can well afford the costs of compliance), the burden of Article 13 will fall most heavily on their competitors, including European startups." claimed the letter.

Before the vote, Stephen Fry tweeted his thoughts on the matter.

Proponents of the directive argue that if this is correct then the result will be that smaller platforms won't show copyrighted works and larger ones will pay to do so. That's exactly the stated aim -- to get creators of material paid for their work.

There is the argument that this will require platforms to monitor and check every single item uploaded to them and that is a significant burden. However, the directive's aim is not to block everything until checked, with the proposed legislation saying that "non-infringing works and other subject matter shall remain available."

How this kind of positive vetting might actually work in practice is an issue and isn't addressed by the directive. Laws in the United States at present have provisions protecting internet providers from violations by users of the services -- but those "Safe Harbor" protections have been challenged on multiple occasions.

Wednesday's vote in Strasburg was 438 in favor, 226 against, with 39 abstentions. The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market will now go ahead to a final vote in January 2019. If it is passed into law then there will be a further delay as each member country of the European Union enacts its own versions.

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