EU Lawmakers Vote to Send Copyright Law Back to Drawing Board

NEWS ANALYSIS: The European Parliament voted to send a copyright law that could have radically changed how the internet works back to the drawing board for more consideration.

EU GDPR Enforcement

The European Parliament voted on July 5 against a proposal from the European Commission to adopt a strong copyright law that would dramatically affect how the internet is used in the EU. Because of the Web’s global nature the proposed laws would have impacted internet use and content access everywhere. 

Had the proposed law been passed, websites and other internet services accessible to EU residents would have been required to restrict the use of copyrighted information. This would prevent someone from uploading a pirated song to YouTube, for example, but it could also prevent someone from uploading a news video that happened to have music in the background, unless a license fee was paid to the owner of that music’s copyright. 

While many internet users were worried about whether the law would cut them off from free access to all kinds of internet content, the real issue to businesses is that the new law could impact your company’s website in a number of ways, most of them not good. 

For example, if you run a company that sells a product that requires a user manual, you might not be able to post an image of the manual without a license from the manufacturer. You also might find that you have to pay a fee even to have a link to that manual. 

But now the EU Parliament voted to delay consideration of the new law until September. During that time, there is to be additional debate on the two articles of the law that tech companies are finding problematic. 

The first is the one requiring a payment to publishers for listing a link to their publications. The second is the article requiring companies to create an automated process for detecting material that is copyrighted, and then refusing to publish it. 

Such rules would place a heavy burden on companies that use the internet as part of their daily business activities. The expense of an automated copyright detection system is significant–it reportedly cost YouTube nearly $100 million to implement theirs. But even for companies that don’t post user files, there would be a heavy cost. 

After all, if your supplier has a European connection, you might have to pay a link tax and obtain licenses to use material. Some companies might be forced to stop access to their web sites from the EU, which would hurt you and your customers. 

However, the vote to delay is just that. The new law, including the most controversial articles, will be voted on in September. Between now and then, the provisions of the proposed law will be debated in the EU and in Parliament. The end result could be that lawmakers reconsider essentially the same law, that the legislation is revised to make it more acceptable or it could be rejected outright. 

During the period set aside for debate, there will be a lot of lobbying. The big tech companies, which are almost exclusively U.S based, have voiced opposition to the law. On the other hand, entertainers and others, led by former Beatle Paul McCartney, have pushed strongly for the new copyright law to be passed. 

It’s impossible to say at this point how much of the new EU copyright law will survive the debate, but there’s reason to believe that a lot of it probably will. The reason is fairly basic. 

The big internet companies, including Google and Facebook, are widely seen in Europe as unwelcome influences into European culture. Considering there is a strong dislike to the way that dysfunctional U.S. diplomacy and new tariffs have impacted Europe over the past year or so, members of the European Parliament aren’t feeling a lot of love for the U.S. right now. 

The saving grace is that enough European Parliament members understand how important the internet is to commerce in Europe that they don’t disable the web as a business engine. But it’s safe to assume that the copyright rules will pass in some form. 

In the meantime, while waiting to find out exactly what happens in September, IT managers are going to have to prepare for the new law, whatever it turns out to be. This includes finding a service that can help spot copyrighted material on your websites, it probably will involve setting up some sort of compliance mechanism so that you can be certain that your interactions with European users will meet the requirements. 

Those requirements will likely include some sort of restriction on how much detail you can include in a link to another site before it infringes (rather than a tax on any link) and it will probably include a requirement that sites remain free of unlicensed copyrighted material. 

But those requirements need not be onerous on their own. For example, radio stations in the U.S. have long been paying royalties on the music they play through performing rights organizations, which then pass those royalty payments along to their performers. There’s every reason to think that such an organization would appear to handle royalties for the use of copyrighted material and internet links. 

But you’ll still need to be able to prove compliance with the new EU copyright rules when they’re approved. This will include planning for a supporting data system and for a set of copyright compliance rules that work in your organization. 

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...