STRASBOURG • EU lawmakers have endorsed an overhaul of the bloc's two-decade-old copyright rules, which will force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for use of news snippets and make them filter out protected content.
The European Parliament backed the reform by 348 votes to 274 yesterday, after a debate that has pitted Europe's creative industry against technology companies, Internet activists and consumer groups concerned that the new rules may be too costly and block too much content.
The European Commission began reviewing the rules two years ago in a bid to protect an industry that is worth €915 billion (S$1.4 trillion) a year, accounting for 11.65 million jobs and 6.8 per cent of the European Union economy.
The commission's digital chief for Europe, Mr Andrus Ansip, welcomed the outcome, saying the reform would improve the position of writers, journalists, singers, musicians and actors in relation to the big platforms that benefited from their content.
"Today's vote ensures the right balance between the interests of all players - users, creators, authors, press - while putting in place proportionate obligations on online platforms," he said in a statement.
"I know there are lots of fears about what users can do or not - now we have clear guarantees for freedom of speech, teaching and online creativity," he said after the vote.
But Google said that the reform would lead to legal uncertainty and hurt Europe's creative and digital economies. A Google spokesman said: "The details matter, and we look forward to working with policymakers, publishers, creators and rights holders as EU member states move to implement these new rules."
The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) echoed the criticism. "Consumers will have to bear the consequences of this decision. Their concerns had been voiced loud and clearly, but MEPs chose to ignore them," BEUC director-general Monique Goyens said, referring to Members of the European Parliament.
Germany was at the heart of the anti-reform movement, led by Ms Julia Reda, a 32-year-old Pirate Party MEP who has spearheaded a campaign against two of the law's provisions that have become flashpoints in the debate.
Her main worry was Article 13, which aims to strengthen the bargaining power of rights holders with platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and SoundCloud, which use their content.
Under the reform, European law for the first time would hold platforms legally responsible for enforcing copyright, requiring them to check everything that their users post to prevent infringement.
Ms Reda said: "Algorithms cannot distinguish between actual copyright infringements and the perfectly legal reuse of content for purposes such as parody."
The second article advocated the creation of a "neighbouring right" to copyright for news media. It should enable news companies to be better paid when their output is used by information aggregators like Google News or social networks such as Facebook.
The reform, if properly implemented by member states, "can help to maintain journalism in the field, which all evidence shows is still the best way to combat misinformation", said Agence France-Presse chief executive officer Fabrice Fries.
The reform is staunchly backed by France and several other EU member states, but some countries may decide to use the flexibility built into the reform that allows a loose interpretation of the rules.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE