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Source: Pixabay

The European Parliament building in Strasbourg

The European Parliament has approved a controversial new copyright law aimed at protecting the rights of content creators in the digital age.

European Parliament members voted 438 to 226, with 39 abstentions, in favour of the bill in a session at its Strasbourg on Wednesday (September 12). Earlier this summer, the European Parliament rejected a previous version of the directive.

The fresh vote was preceded by a ferocious lobbying war between opponents, who say the new proposals will stifle an open and free internet, and its proponents who say the new legislation is needed to protect the copyright and revenue of content creators in the digital age.

German MEP Alex Voss who oversaw the drafting of the updated directive has said the new legislation was necessary to “avoid cultural theft” in the current era.

Wednesday’s vote means that two controversial new rules – known as article 11 and 13 – have been approved by the parliament, but not ratified.

Article 11, referred to as “neighbouring rights” or “link tax”, will require digital platforms to take out a license for parts of content it posts, such as an article link or short video extract, from the original rights holder.

Article 13, will make platforms responsible for user copyright infringement of any type of content from music to film.

Industry reaction

Cinema bodies from across Europe welcomed Wednesday’s result. The European film industry, which wants to see the big global digital platforms invest more in film and TV content from the region and properly remunerate artists for the content attracting users to their sites, has been lobbying hard in recent weeks for a positive vote.

European filmmakers, including Jacques Audiard, Agnieszka Holland and Mike Leigh, were out in force, for example, at Venice Film Festival last week. 

The Federation of European Film Directors (FERA), the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe (FSE) and the Society of Audiovisual Authors (SAA) put out a joint release in endorsing the vote.

“In spite of a very aggressive campaign against the proposed Copyright Directive, the members of the European Parliament voted in favour of authors and the recognition that they need to be remunerated by whoever exploits their works. This is a big step forward that will have to be consolidated and even improved,” said Cécile Despringre, SAA Executive Director.

“European screenwriters and directors’ work is hindered today by unstable, low income. The European Parliament rightly exercised its power to reverse the trend and set more sustainable conditions for tomorrow’s European audiovisual creation”, said Pauline Durand-Vialle, FERA Chief Executive.

”Today’s decision by the European Parliament will finally allow screenwriters and directors to benefit from the ever-growing on-demand exploitation of their works”, said David Kavanagh, FSE Executive Officer.

IMPALA, the industry body representing independent music companies across Europe, echoed these sentiments.

“This is a great day for Europe’s creators. The Parliament has sent a clear message that copyright needs to be modernised to clarify obligations of platforms with regard to the creative works they distribute,” said the body’s executive chair Helen Smith. “This means that we can finally enter the last phase of negotiations to secure a fair and sustainable internet… Platforms facilitate a unique relationship between artists and fans, and copyright reform is about rebalancing the licensing framework around this,” she added.

Out of France, which has been one of the nations leading the campaign for the changes, the directors’ guild L’ARP, the writers guild SACD and the Société des Réalisateurs de Films (la SRF) also put out a joint release.

“The European Parliament’s decision is a sign of a Europe that is moving forward and is not prepared to become a digital colony without the political will to support culture in the digital age,” it read.

They praised the fact that the directive’s text paid particular attention to the issue of artist revenues, saying it would recalibrate the relationship between artists, producers and the platforms, and oblige the latter to respect artistic copyright.

They warned, however, that Wednesday’s “progress” would be “dead on arrival” if the sections of the directive covering proportional remuneration for artists were not safeguarded and strengthened in the final version of the directive to be voted on in the New Year.

Wednesday’s vote comes amid a rising backlash across Europe against the so-called GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) platforms as well as Netflix, amid a growing public perception that these groups are reaping huge profits and undercutting local players, but are not subject to the same taxes and investment obligations.

The European Union is currently exploring proposals for a new corporate tax framework that would force internet giants to pay more taxes on their EU profits.

In the UK, where legislation may decouple from the EU post-Brexit, Chancellor Phillip Hammond said in August he was mulling a so-called “Amazon tax”, aimed at digital giants operating in the country. Some 250,000 people in the UK have signed a petition calling on Amazon to pay more tax in recent weeks after it emerged the company paid just £1.7m in tax in the UK in 2017.