EU Parliament approves copyright law in blow to Internet giants

Lawmakers agreed on Wednesday on a common position on copyright reforms ahead of talks with the 28 EU countries on legislation to force Google, Facebook and other tech giants to share revenues more fairly with Europe's creative industries.
European Parliament MP Axel Voss cheering after the new law that gives media companies powers over tech firms was approved yesterday.
European Parliament MP Axel Voss cheering after the new law that gives media companies powers over tech firms was approved yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

Tech firms may have to negotiate content licences with news, record companies

STRASBOURG (France) • The European Parliament yesterday approved a controversial European Union (EU) copyright law that hands more power to news and record companies against Internet giants like Google and Facebook.

Backing the draft were traditional media, in urgent search of revenue at a time when Web users shun newspapers and television, and advertising revenue is siphoned away by online platforms.

Members in the European Parliament (MEPs) meeting in the French city of Strasbourg voted 438 in favour of the measure, 226 against, with 39 abstentions.

European lawmakers were sharply divided on the issue, with both sides engaging in one of the biggest rounds of lobbying that the EU has ever seen.

MEPs settled on a text that compromised on some of the ways news organisations will be able to charge Web companies for links to content.

It also slightly watered down a proposal for so-called upload filters that will force platforms - such as YouTube or Facebook - to automatically delete content that violates copyright.

The vote in the European Parliament "is a strong and positive signal and an essential step to achieving our common objective of modernising the copyright rules in the EU", said EU commissioners Andrus Ansip and Mariya Gabriel, who had proposed the reform.

Now that European lawmakers broadly supported a legislative proposal for new copyright rules, first unveiled in 2016 by the European Commission, Alphabet's Google, Facebook and other tech firms may now be forced to negotiate licences for content that appears on their sites.

Tech platforms and Internet activists yesterday protested against the outcome of the vote.

The European Parliament in July had rejected the rules but backed them in a final vote yesterday after lawmakers submitted slight tweaks to the text.

With the vote, MEPs can now start negotiations with the European Council, representing the 28 member states which already reached a compromise on the issue in May.

The discussions can take several months before any compromise is put to a fresh vote.


Before the closely watched vote, French President Emmanuel Macron had called it "a fundamental battle for copyright", adding that "Europe must be worthy of its culture".

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.

They also fear that automatic filters to prevent users sharing content subject to copyright could be misused to censor political messages or other forms of free expression.

Separately, the EU chief executive has proposed fining Google, Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms if they fail to remove extremist content within one hour.

"One hour is the decisive time window the greatest damage takes place," Mr Jean-Claude Juncker said in his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament.

Brussels gave Internet firms three months in March to show they were acting faster to take down radical posts, but EU regulators say too little is being done without legislation forcing them to do so.

The EU yesterday also proposed fining groups that misuse voters' data to sway elections, as it seeks to guard against a repeat of the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, especially in an EU parliament vote next May.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 13, 2018, with the headline 'EU Parliament approves copyright law in blow to Internet giants'. Print Edition | Subscribe