14 May

The European Union’s New Copyright Rules

For the first time ever in two decades, the European Parliament made changes to its copyright law. Most of the changes in the European Union’s (EU) Copyright Directive are uncontroversial, simply setting out how copyright contracts are managed and licensed. The bit that’s considered extremely controversial and problematic is ‘Article 13’, which could have a huge impact on how material is shared online. In simpler terms, it states that websites should be responsible for ensuring that content uploaded to their platforms don’t breach copyright, expecting them to filter or remove copyrighted material from their websites. This article is somewhat designed to give artists, musicians and publishers a better chance of being paid when their work appears on the internet.

EU says that the directive is specifically about making copyright rules fit for the ‘digital era’. And to comply with this article, online platforms will need to ensure that any copyrighted material on their sites is licensed, hence guaranteeing that the original artist receives payment for its use. However, certain services are exempted, including non-profit encyclopaedias like Wikipedia, software development platforms like Github, and cloud storage services.

While controversies will never fail to come up, there’s a large section of people and celebrities who are avid campaigners for the article. Rightholders believe that this article and the changes in the rules will put an end to piracy, and ensure that creators and publishers receive their due. The rules of the same are also intended to challenge, and to a certain extent control, the power of giants like Google and Facebook, forcing them to pay for the content they put out on their platforms. Currently, platforms such as YouTube aren’t responsible for copyright violations, although they must remove content that rightholders ask them to.

The article also states that online content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorised protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services. So, any website that hosts large numbers of user-generated content should take down content that infringes copyright.

Article 13 also informs us exactly which platforms will need upload filters to scan every piece of uploaded content, and which ones won’t. The following are exempted:

  • A website that has been available for fewer than three years
  • A website that has an annual turnover below €10 million
  • A website that has had fewer than five million unique monthly visitors

Another article that has people confused is ‘Article 11’, which intends to get news sites to pay publishers for using snippets of their articles on their platforms. The directive does contain an exemption for “legitimate private and non-commercial use of press publications” by individual users. So thankfully, individuals sharing links on their social platforms wouldn’t have to empty their pockets!

‘Article 12a’ might put an end to sharing of videos or photos of sports matches – unless you’re the official organiser of the same. This also means that people who attended matches, will be forbidden from posting any such data on social media.

These updates will become the law once member states enshrine the rules in their legislation. These have to be implemented by EU member states latest by 2021.

The new rules are undoubtedly a huge step towards copyright – but there are concerns that need to be addressed. These are changes that should’ve been lobbied for a lot more. After all, it’s a vote against theft.