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EU parliament votes for mandatory web filters for copyrighted content

The European Union’s parliament has voted in favour of the Copyright Directive, a controversial package of requirements for protecting intellectual property on the internet. Articles 11 and 13 of the directive would require aggregators like Google News to pay fees to publication whose articles they link to, and effectively require platforms to put in filters to proactively filter out copyrighted content.

Activists and aggregators like Reddit have cried foul, with the Electronic Frontier Foundation calling the directive’s approval a “crushing setback” to the internet. The filter effectively forces websites to pre-censor all posts by users before they’re allowed to see the light of day. A proposed amendment that would exclude ‘incidental’ infringement, like street photographs with copyrighted images in the background, was rejected.

The vote will have to be formally cleared in January next year, after which individual EU member states will have to implement the directive.

Criticism of Copyright Directive

The last iteration of Articles 11 and 13 was defeated in the European Parliament in July. Even after amendments, the directive, as it passed, has received heavy criticism from internet companies and activists.

  • Calling the vote an “extinction-level event for the Internet as we know it,” the EFF wrote that the “link tax [which requires web companies to pay licensing fees to publications they aggregate content from] means that only the largest, best-funded companies will be able to offer a public space where the news can be discussed and debated.”
  • Social media site Reddit, which relies exclusively on links to other sites and user-generated posts for content, called the vote a ‘significant blow’ for websites like itself.
  • Wikimedia, which runs Wikipedia, said that the vote helped “entrench outdated copyright policies and impose even greater barriers to access to knowledge online”.
  • “Unlike the European Parliament, the Indian Supreme Court makes a definite attempt to protect free speech rights of its netizens by providing a fair and balanced takedown mechanism,” Prarthana Patnaik wrote in SpicyIP, referring to the court’s Shreya Singhal judgement, where a provision of the IT Act was read down to ensure that a court order would be required to remove content online.

The Copyright Directive was presented as a way to break the power of large tech companies over the intellectual property of creators. While its outcomes for small creators will play out after individual countries implement it, companies like Facebook and Google will now, at the very least, have to spend a lot more than they have on developing filters and paying licensing fees.

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