EU Rejects Sweeping Law That To Some Could Have Upended Internet, To Others Bolstered Copyright Law

Eric Lieberman | Associate Editor

European Union lawmakers voted down changes to copyright laws Thursday, as many argued that it could upend fundamental aspects of the internet.

The directive was set to require online platforms of companies like Facebook and Google to employ filtering systems that would attempt to obstruct copyright content for those who didn’t properly access it.

The proposal was rejected after a vote of 318 to 278. Now, the tentative reforms will be put up for full debate, allowing for alterations.

“I regret that a majority of MEPs did not support the position which I and the Legal Affairs Committee have been advocating,” Axel Voss, the rapporteur and member of the European People’s Party Group, said in a statement. “But this is part of the democratic process. We will now return to the matter in September for further consideration and attempt to address peoples’ concerns whilst bringing our copyright rules up to date with the modern digital environment.”

But to those, like Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who worry about the potential unintended consequences of censoring online content, the proposal was too strong and would stifle the creativity that is afforded, even fostered with an open internet.

Out of protest, Wikipedia’s site for users in Spain, Italy and Poland was temporarily cut off. During the virtual demonstration, Wales took to Twitter to voice his deep reservations of the prospective new laws, catching the attention of the European Commission, the governing body of the E.U.

Wales wasn’t persuaded.

Many publishers and artists like Paul McCartney and James Blunt backed the proposal as it was because they feel as if they aren’t given their full due from their hard work and creations. The Copyright Directive, according to McCartney, would “address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators, fans and digital music services alike.”

The international recording industry group known as IFPI has even been campaigning with #ValueGap, arguing that online platforms exploit musicians and other content creators by not fairly compensating them, while receiving disproportionate benefits.

Julia Reda, a German politician and member of the European Parliament as part of the The Greens party, helped spearhead opposition to the hard-line strategy to combat copyright infringement. Like Wikipedia’s Wales, she sees the proposal as too cumbersome, if not completely restrictive of fundamental aspects of the internet, which often allow people to do interesting, novel things with already available content.

“These plans will now get the scrutiny and the public debate such sweeping measures deserve,” Reda said, according to Reuters. “But the fight is far from over. We need to make sure that, in September, parliament votes for an update to copyright rules that protects creators’ interests while also safeguarding the rights of internet users.”

And Monique Goyens, a director general of the consumer group BEUC, agrees that something is needed to aid artists in retaining as much control as possible over their intellectual property, but it went too far.

“This is a big decision in the fight to prevent large-scale and systematic filtering of online content from becoming the norm,” Goyens said. “The legislative debate urgently needs re-direction. The internet must remain a place where consumers can freely share own creations, opinions and ideas. MEPs have a chance to correct a heavily unbalanced report and make copyright work for both consumer and creators.” (RELATED: How A Law That Will Allegedly Help Stop Online Sex Trafficking May Undermine The Internet)

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