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The European Parliament adds its own debt to its own Digital Single Market plans

The European Parliament has approved the next steps on the road to updated copyright provisions, which could be a self-inflicted blow to its own Digital Single Market ambitions.

The Strasbourg Parliament voted on controversial copyright law proposals aimed at updating legislation for a digital age. The proposals were rejected during a vote in July and returned to the European Commission for amendment.

Proponents of the plans were musicians and artists such as McCartney and Wyclef Jean, but also European politicians who were out to give Facebook and Google another bloody nose. Opponents are just such companies, tech industry associations and lobby groups and experts like Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web.

In this case, it was the supporters who held the day. With 438 votes in favor, 226 against and 39 abstentions, the honorable Member voted in favor of the controversial rules. Before the vote, Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the Commission responsible for the Digital Single Market, told Parliament that

A unique opportunity to adapt copyright regulations to a digital age. If we do not start trilogue negotiations [within the EU’s main institutions]The directive can be postponed several years. In this case, there will only be one winner in the short term: big [tech] Platforms. No one else. Not creators and artists, not citizens, not researchers, not teachers, not even start-ups and small platforms can win – and even larger platforms can not win through fragmentation. It will be a loose, losing situation.

At first glance, the European Commission's proposals sound well in common:

  • Updating and harmonizing some important exceptions to copyright provisions in the areas of research, education and cultural heritage preservation;
  • Promote quality journalism;
  • to ensure that those who create and invest in content determine whether and how their content is provided by online platforms and paid for their content;
  • Increasing the transparency and balance of contractual relations between the authors (authors and performers) and their producers and publishers.

However, the two main problems concerned Article 11 and Article 13.

Article 11 introduces a so-called "link tax", which would require social media platforms such as Google and Facebook to pay news agencies to use their headlines on their websites. Proponents argue that hyperlinks are excluded, but critics say the rule would change the overall nature of the Internet and the sharing of information.

Article 13 calls for the technology of "effective content recognition" to filter out copyrighted content. This clause resulted in an open letter from 70 leading internet experts, including Berners-Lee, who warned that Article 13 could be abused by governments and surveillance agencies to undermine fundamental freedoms:

We can not support Article 13, which would require Internet platforms to embed automated surveillance and censorship infrastructure deep into their networks.

Technical condemnation

The result of the vote led to a condemnation of the technology associations on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) said in a statement that Europe has taken a self-inflicted blow:

[These measures] will undermine freedom of expression and access to information. Upload filters lead to a general obligation to monitor the content uploaded by users, thereby damaging the fundamental rights of European citizens and undermining the platforms' liability limitation system, a legal cornerstone for the European digital sector.

CCIA Senior Policy Manager Maud Sacquet added:

We regret that a majority of MEPs have ignored the widespread warnings about the risks of the copyright proposal. We now call on the Council and Parliament to come to a balanced conclusion in the final negotiations.

The UK industry association techUK warned that the outcome of yesterday's vote was a blow to the digital economy in Europe. Giles Derrington, head of Brexit, International and Economics, said:

Far from advancing the digital economy in Europe through the Digital Single Market, the proposals adopted today by the European Parliament will create significant additional burdens on companies wishing to serve the European market. It's bad news, not just for British digital companies, but also for the general public, who are now risking their freedoms being restricted online.

Although the objectives of the Copyright Directive's proposals were understandable, the chosen method will not achieve the objectives set out above. The requirements for platforms to filter all user-uploaded content are likely to result in a reduced user experience and excessive removal of legitimate content. The creation of a new Neighbor Law for Press Publishers will make it more difficult to share news articles online and make it harder for the public to find online journalism of good quality. Today it was also a missed opportunity to make Europe a more attractive place for the development of artificial intelligence. Instead, fragmented rules across the EU will give a confusing picture of where text and data mining technologies are allowed.

The rules will now go through the next stages of the approval process, which will include a final vote in January, in which the rules will be passed. The EU Member States will then decide how to transpose the Directive into national law.

It also raises the question of what Britain will look like after Brexit. Derrington noticed that it is another unwanted factor:

To be clear, the UK leaving the European Union does not protect British companies from these new requirements. Any British company wishing to serve the EU market must comply with the Directive, which is a significant barrier to entry, given the size and importance of the EU market for UK companies.

My take

As I said in July, when the European Parliament sent an earlier version of these proposals back to the drawing board, it was only a battle won, not the war. And I said:

I am very, very concerned that in a time of so-called populism and increasingly authoritarian leaders of the world, anything that can be used by fanatics and despots to restrict freedom of expression can crawl through the legislative back door.

Nothing that happened yesterday made me change my mind. The improvements to the proposals made by the European Parliament are exactly that – tweaks.

When it comes to who I trust on the subject, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who created the WWW "for all," or a career politician like Ansip, who has proven his digital flaws on many occasions, there is no real choice …

Picture credits – European Parliament

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