On the 12th of September 2018 the European Parliament voted 438 to 226 in favour of the controversial legislation developed with the purpose of updating the old online copyright laws and aligning it with issues faced in the digital age. Even with a further vote in early 2019 to finalize the decision critics say it is unlikely that the directive will be rejected, meaning each EU member state will need to implement their understanding of the new directive, which so far seems open for interpretation to a certain degree. From the directive there seems to be two articles that are hotly contested; 11 and 13 dubbed the 'link tax' and the 'upload filter' respectively.
The Link Tax
Article 11 or the 'link tax' was introduced, but was originally rejected and then approved in the recent vote after they reworked it. It specifically covered how aggregate platforms like Reddit and Google news could be charged publication copyright and licensing fees for sharing links to publications and papers online. The idea behind the 'link tax' was to "protect the principle of fair pay for European creatives" according to Alex Voss, one of the directive's creators and European Parliament member.
Confusion seems to arise from how the directive could be interpreted. "Merely sharing hyperlinks to articles, together with individual words to describe them, will be free of copyright constraints." The text also specifies that links in online platforms that are non-commercial such as GitHub and Wikipedia will be exempt." The large criticism of this is that the directive and EU parliament have not provided a method for member states to implement and enforce this, which has made it unclear for businesses who operate such platforms and sites in the EU. Other criticisms include the derailment of open source collaboration due to the copyright challenges. Only time will tell as the the size of impact of these changes in the open source community.
The Upload Tax
Article 13 of the directive is also sparking controversy. The purpose is to actively stamp out the copyright infringement by the different internet sharing platforms working collaboratively with the license or copyright holders. Although the intentions are good once again, trying to ensure copyright is protected or at least the creators are paid for the use of their work, making platforms like Youtube liable for users behaviour oversteps the mark in many peoples eyes.
Online the smallest online platforms are exempt, meaning platforms like Youtube will be forced to create systems that can filter and block copyrighted content - easier said than done. This effort would be huge in terms of labour, cost and time for the sites that need to put the measures in place as well as being difficult to the member states to police effectively.
Similar plans to tax companies like Google have occurred in the past, each time with the same intention of trying to protect the 'creative license holder', but all have failed. The most famous example is Google news, which pulled the Spanish version of their news site after Spain tried to tax them for the 'links' referencing articles by several Spanish journalists and publications. Many are worried that article 13 may invoke a similar reaction from the likes of Google again.
To avoid liability under article 13, platforms must "take effective mesaures to prevent the availability of its services to unauthorised works or other subject matter identified by the copyright holders." They go on to say "if copyright content does make it onto the site then the platform must "act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the specific unauthorised work or other subject matter and take steps to prevent its future availability." The directive seems to be forcing platforms to montior all content and appear to be legislating for internet censorship which isnt going down well with the critics. There seems to be few exceptions to this clause but further details are yet to be released.
Where to from here?
The future is not entirely set in stone yet. There is plenty of petitions opposing the legislation that are being put forward in preparation for the final vote in January 2019. For businesses operating online it appears to be a good time to check your websites and social media pages to ensure that any content that you have is not in breach of any copyright and stay tuned as we will keep you up to date with the latest developments in this story.