EU Copyright Reform: needs more work

The European parliament today, by 438 votes to 226 against with 39 abstentions, voted to approve the negotiating mandate for the next stage of complex negotiations over the reform of Copyright in the digital Single Market.  The SNP European Group, Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith, supported a workable compromise between the most contentious elements of the Directive, in particular Articles 11 and 13, and the right of copyright holders to receive fair remuneration for their work when published online. 

On Articles 11 and 13 the pair supported amendments to the proposals on the basis that however well intentioned the proposals to close the so-called ‘value gap’ for artistic producers are, in reality they will not protect the entirety of the industry and overlook the rights of consumers to upload and share their own personal creations.

The most controversial provision is Article 13 which will force platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to automatically filter all uploaded content. These filters could prevent consumers from uploading legitimate content that contains copyrighted material, for instance homemade videos that includes music.

However, the attempt to improve the text was unsuccessful and the majority of MEPs approved the package, which now moves on to detailed line by line negotiation with the Member States.

Ian Hudghton and Alyn Smith said:

“Throughout the negotiation process, we have fought to get the right legislative balance for creators to get their fair share of remuneration, and for public digital users. However the current text of the Directive includes some provisions that have far reaching consequences for digital users, for example due to the potential imposition of content filters. We remain concerned that unless changed these proposals could create an entirely new surveillance system that will impinge on the privacy and commercial rights of individual European citizens.

“There is the undeniable right for creators to be properly compensated for their work, and we have always supported that right. On the other hand we must also seek to protect the public who have the right to freedom of expression. To date, we do not have the necessary legal framework that balances these two principles.  There is also a distinct risk that without further refinement, the proposed text of the Directive would close down many digital platforms to new and emerging artists who have not yet licensed their work professionally. Additionally, many academics and experts have been voicing concern over the potential negative impacts of Article 13.

“It is important to remember that today's vote on the copyright directive was not a vote for or against copyright reform, but rather about the best means to achieve a balance between the interests involved. On balance we could not support the proposals today, but we will continue to pay close attention to this dossier as it progresses to its next stage.” 


Below are some extracts from the speech of our Group Spokesperson on this file, Julia Reda MEP, who explained during the debate the position of the majority in our Group: 

“Copyright law is complex and all of us have been getting mixed messages, and there is a reason for that. The problems that the rapporteur, Mr Voss, wants to solve are serious, but they are not, in large part, problems caused by copyright law. Copyright law cannot bring back lost newspaper subscriptions and it cannot bring back lost advertising revenues. If that’s the problem we want to solve, we need the Commission to bring in online advertising regulation, because this is how tech companies are threatening to destroy the news business. The truth is that news articles are already protected by copyright, and if platforms use them without paying they are already breaking the law.” 

“If we make platforms directly liable for everything, they won’t get a licence from every rightholder in the world. Even if they could find all the rightholders, if just one of them refused a licence, the platforms would have to filter. Mr Cavada may deny that, or say that these filters will only block legal content, but simply wishing that automatic filters can do that is not going to make it true. Until algorithms are smart enough to have a sense of humour, then they won’t know the difference between a parody and a copyright infringement. They would simply block both.”

“If we want YouTube or Facebook to pay creators, let’s write that into the law, as many of the alternative amendments from the left side of the House actually do. Upload filters will just give YouTube and Facebook an excuse not to pay. Instead, they will sell their filters to small European platforms, a danger that even the United Nations Special Rapporteur for freedom of expression had called by its name: censorship.”

“The proposals may be well intended, but they suffer from a reality gap. We have to stick to what copyright law can do to support creators without trying to bend it to solve other problems and without threatening fundamental rights. That is what the amendments I have tabled do. They are the proposals by the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and by the previous PPE rapporteur, and they are 100% supported by Europe’s leading copyright academics. Please vote for them so that we can preserve the positive parts of this directive that will actually help creators.”