Tech giants and celebrities weigh in as European Union lawmakers vote to force Google, Facebook and other firms to share more revenues with EU media, publishers and other content creators in a shake-up of copyright rules.
The European Union wants to shake up the way internet companies handle media, e-books, digital music, news articles and other content posted online by better protecting the rights of the authors and creators.
EU lawmakers voted to back a report that has proved controversial and seen celebrities weigh in. Beatles member Paul McCartney recently wrote an open letter to the lawmakers to encourage them to back the new rules, while former Fugees frontman Wyclef Jean has publicly opposed it.
But, despite uncertainty ahead of the vote, MEPs meeting in Strasbourg ended up passing the draft law with 438 votes in favour, 226 against, and 39 abstentions.
The vote on Wednesday backs a law with the potential to force Google, Facebook and other technology firms to share more revenues with European media, publishers and other content creators. The next step is negotiations with the Commission and the 28 EU countries to reconcile their different positions before existing copyright laws are amended, with a final vote expected next year.
What does the EU want?
The European Commission, which began the debate two years ago, says the overhaul is necessary to protect Europe's cultural heritage and create a level playing field between big online platforms and publishers, broadcasters and artists.
The text settled on ways news organisations will charge companies for links to content, with platforms free to use "a few words" of text, according to a key amendment.
Among other things, it calls for automatic filters of uploaded content that would identify copyrighted material. But it spared small companies from the so-called upload filters that will make platforms — such as YouTube or Facebook — liable for copyright breaches and force them to automatically delete content by violators.
To give the new system teeth, it would also make online publishing platforms liable for copyright infringement.
TRT World's Assed Baig has more.
Media companies and publishers say the changes would help them get paid for their work. But opponents say they are too hard to put into effect, and might lead to filtering or even greater control over the internet.
The draft had been fiercely resisted by US tech giants as well as online freedom activists, with some campaigners warning it could spell the end of viral "memes" or jokes.
Opponents also fear that automatic filters to prevent users from sharing content subject to copyright could be misused to censor political messages or other forms of free expression.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association, the major tech lobby, said the legislators "ignored the warnings ... on the real threats this proposal causes." The association said the reforms would "undermine free expression online and access to information."
Lawmakers can now start negotiations with the European Council representing the 28 member states, which had already reached a compromise on the issue in May.
German lawmaker Axel Voss, who chaperoned the report through the assembly, said the vote "is a good sign for the creative industries in Europe." The changes must still be endorsed by EU member states.
Voss said the text contains provisions to ensure that copyright law can be respected without limiting freedom of expression. Wikipedia and open source software platforms would not be affected.
"We have addressed concerns raised about innovation by excluding small and micro platforms or aggregators from the scope," Voss said. "I am convinced that once the dust has settled, the internet will be as free as it is today, creators and journalists will be earning a fairer share of the revenues generated by their works, and we will be wondering what all the fuss was about."
The European Magazine Media Association praised the move as "a great day for the independent press and for democracy," saying it would modernise the rules without stifling online competition.
Word in the industry ...
McCartney and many other musicians backed the proposals, saying it would help them earn revenue that otherwise would have gone to the dominant tech companies.
But others like Wyclef Jean have rejected it, saying that working with internet platforms is a bigger financial opportunity than threat for musical artists. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales have said the changes would lead to automated surveillance and control of internet users.
Some also worry about the cost and reliability of automated filters. Google has spent more than $100 million on Content ID, its copyright management system for YouTube, which has more than 400 hours of content uploaded every minute. But many users complain that the system is inaccurate.