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Changing interpretations of Article 13 erode industry support for EU’s incendiary Copyright Directive

Europe’s efforts for copyright law overhaul were controversial when they first progressed through Parliament, and the Copyright Directive measures have only become more contentious over time. Article 13 in particular could have far-reaching implications for not just copyright law, but the foundations of how people communicate and create on the Internet.

The article, which was approved by the European Council and European Parliament, is now under scrutiny as the member states develop their own interpretations of the ideas that the bloc’s government passed. Article 13 makes online platforms responsible for deploying copyright filters and ensuring that none of their users infringe on copyrights. One of the big questions about Article 13 is whether that could be interpreted mean the end of the wide range of online expression that is memes. It also raised concerns about censorship, and whether too broad an effort to limit copyright infringement would inevitably wind up with false positives that would end the concept of the Internet as a forum for open and public communication.

The negotiations hit a roadblock around whether Article 13 should have exemptions for smaller businesses. Many tech advocates have argued that the provision would make growth impossible for smaller groups that might want to compete with giant operations such as YouTube or Facebook. However, some of the nations that had been holding out for such an exemption appear to have conceded. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a summary of how Germany has changed its approach to the Directive.

The debates over Article 13 have turned some of the Copyright Directive’s early supporters against it. The music industry put immense effort into lobbying on behalf of the changes at first, but now some are calling for the Directive to be canceled. The IFPI and IMPALA joined a consortium that co-signed a letter from creative industries calling for EU leadership not to proceed with the latest proposals:

“We appreciate the efforts made by several parties to attempt to achieve a good compromise in the long negotiations of recent months. Nevertheless, the outcome of these negotiations in several of the Council discussions has been to produce a text which contains elements which fundamentally go against copyright principles enshrined in EU and international copyright law.
Far from levelling the playing field, the proposed approach would cause serious harm by not only failing to meet its objectives, but actually risking leaving European producers, distributors and creators worse off.”

However, proving the degree of difficulty in getting the entire music sector to reach consensus, several music-making groups centered in the UK responded with their own scathing missive in support of continuing the Directive:

“We make the music that people want to listen to and buy. It is our intellectual property and our rights and we need the Copyright Directive to put in place reasonable and fair safeguards.
It is hugely disappointing to see the music labels and publishers disregard the interests of their creators and artists in this way. They are trying to overturn years of collaborative work at the 11th hour by killing the Copyright Directive. Like YouTube, they have lobbied negotiators hard without consulting or informing the creative community. Heavy-handed tactics of heavyweight businesses.”

Music Ally has the full text of both letters.

One of the top takeaways from the disintegration of talks around the Copyright Directive is that the longer laws wait to keep pace with changing technologies, the more complicated it will be to cleanly make updates.

Anna Washenko

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