They only went and bloody did it. The EU has voted to approve its hugely controversial Internet Copyright Directive, which has been lambasted by experts across the globe.
The overall bill seeks to update Internet copyright laws for the modern era. But two parts of it, Articles 11 and 13, have been criticized for stifling small companies and introducing a “meme ban”. As such, the bill was rejected by MEPs back in July 2018.
But a new version of the bill, with amended versions of Articles 11 and 13, was approved yesterday morning by 438 votes to 226 in Strasbourg. The vote was heralded essential to “modernizing the copyright rules in the European Union," said EU commissioners and the reform proposers Andrus Ansip and Mariya Gabriel.
The bill will now need to be signed off by leaders of the EU member states, so it is not formally law yet. Each country will then be tasked with enforcing the law themselves.
It’s safe to say the vote hasn’t gone down too well. Both articles have their problems, with Article 11 often called a “link tax”. Although it remains vague, critics say it would require websites – even places like Google News – to pay a fee for every link to a website they provide, which seems almost unenforceable.
“The European Parliament just endorsed a #linktax that would make using the title of a news article in a link to it require a license,” Julia Reda, MEP for the Pirate Party, posted on Twitter. Numerous Internet experts, including founder of the web Tim Berners Lee, also signed a letter earlier this year arguing against the Copyright Directive.
Article 13, meanwhile, has received similar ire as it says that all platforms must prevent any copyrighted content from appearing on their site. Again it's vague, but it seems to imply comments on websites or memes would have to be individually checked to ensure they aren’t breaking any copyright laws. Yeah, good luck with that.
“The only way to do so would be to scan all data being uploaded to sites like YouTube and Facebook,” said The Verge. “This would create an incredible burden for small platforms, and could be used as a mechanism for widespread censorship.”
Those in favor of the law say these fears are over the top. But considering how many experts are against the law, with many websites also holding protests, it’s pretty hard to argue in its favor. Not least because, well, there’s no actual plan for how the EU is going to implement Articles 11 and 13.
So the Internet faces a pretty testing time in a somewhat unnecessary battle over copyright. Who knows what this will mean for the future of the web, but early indications are it doesn’t look great.