Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Strasbourg, France — The European parliament will vote on Tuesday on controversial copyright reforms championed by news publishers and the music business but criticised by big tech and internet freedom activists.

The run-up to the vote has seen furious lobbying and protests by both supporters and opponents of the law, which is designed to update European copyright legislation now nearly two decades old.

The reform, two years in the making, is loudly backed by media companies and artists, who want to obtain a better return from web platforms — such as YouTube or Facebook — that use their content.

It is strongly opposed by some of those same internet giants such as YouTube owner Google, which make huge profits from the advertising generated on content they host, and also by supporters of a free internet, who fear it will result in unprecedented restrictions to web freedom.

Tens of thousands of protesters rallied in cities around Germany on Saturday under the slogan “Save the Internet”.

Save the Internet is a collective that has been mobilised for months to defend a free exchange of opinions on the web.

There were similar protests in Austria, Poland and Portugal on Saturday.

Germany is at the heart of the antireform movement, led by Julia Reda, a 32-year-old Pirate Party member of the European parliament, who has led a campaign against two of the law’s provisions that have become flashpoints in the debate.

Bargaining power

First is article 13, which aims to strengthen the bargaining power of rights holders with platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Soundcloud, which use their content.

In the reform, for the first time European law would hold platforms legally responsible for enforcing copyright, requiring them to check everything that their users post to prevent infringement.

Reda and her supporters insist that article 13 would require platforms to install expensive content filters that would automatically and often erroneously delete content from the web.

Backers of the law, led by its rapporteur member of parliament Axel Voss, answer that filters are not a requirement but they do not explain how companies can comply with article 13 without them.

The second article advocates 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, such as Google News, or social networks, such as Facebook.

Major publishers, including AFP, have pushed for the reform, seeing it as an urgent remedy to safeguard quality journalism and the plummeting earnings of traditional media companies.

But opponents have called it a “link tax” that will stifle discourse on the internet and pay only big media companies, with no real benefits for journalists or news gatherers.

The reform is staunchly backed by France and other member states and the vote in the European parliament is expected to be a formality.

But the opposition of influential firms such as Google as well as the grassroots movement led by Reda have put that outcome in doubt.

AFP