EU copyright reform: a missed opportunity

After almost three years of debate and activism, EU lawmakers are expected to give their final approval to new EU copyright rules this week. Ahead of that vote, it’s timely to take a look back at how we got here, why we think this law is not the answer to EU lawmakers’ legitimate concerns, and what happens next if, as expected, Parliament votes through the new rules.

How did we get here?

We’ve been engaged in the discussions around the EU Copyright directive since the very beginning. During that time, we deployed various tools, campaigns, and policy assessments to highlight to European lawmakers the importance of an ambitious copyright reform that puts the interests of European internet users and creators at the centre of the process. Sadly, despite our best efforts – as well as the efforts of academics, creator and digital rights organisations, internet luminaries, and over five million citizens – our chances of reversing the EU’s march towards a bad legislative outcome diminished dramatically last September, after the draft law passed a crucial procedural milestone in the European Parliament.

Over the last several months, we have worked hard to minimise the damage that these proposals would do to the internet in Europe and to Europeans’ rights. Although the draft law is still deeply flawed, we are grateful to those progressive lawmakers who worked with us to improve the text.

Why this law won’t solve lawmakers’ legitimate concerns

The new rules that MEPs are set to adopt will compel online services to implement blanket upload filters, with an overly complex and limited SME carve out that will be unworkable in practice.  At the same time, lawmakers have forced through a new ancillary copyright for press publishers, a regressive and disproven measure that will undermine access to knowledge and the sharing of information online.

The legal uncertainty and potential variances in implementations across the EU that will be generated by these complex rules means that only the largest, most established platforms will be able to fully comply and thrive in such a restricted online environment. Moreover, despite our best efforts, the interests of European internet users have been largely ignored in this debate, and the law’s restrictions on user generated content and link sharing will hit users hardest. And worse, the controversial new rules will not contribute to addressing the core problems they were designed to tackle, namely the fair remuneration of European creators and the sustainability of the press sector.

A missed opportunity

Like many others, we had originally hoped that the EU Copyright directive would provide an opportunity to bring European copyright law in line with the realities of the 21st century. Sadly, suggestions that were made by us for real and positive reforms of EU copyright law, such as an ambitious new exemption for user-generated content, have been swept aside. We are glad to see that the final text includes a new copyright exemption for text & data mining (TDM), and that lawmakers pushed back on attempts to make Europe’s TDM environment even more legally restrictive.

In that sense, the adoption of this law by the European Parliament this week would be a pyrrhic victory for its supporters. We do not see how it will bring any of the positive impacts that they’ve championed, and rather, will simply serve to entrench the power of the incumbents. We expect copyright to return to the political agenda in the years to come, as the real underlying issues facing European creators and press publishers will remain.

Next steps

Many citizens, creators, digital rights groups, and tech companies continue to highlight how problematic the proposed Copyright directive is, and we stand in solidarity with them. We’ll be following the upcoming vote closely, in particular the vote on last-minute amendments that would see the controversial article 13 removed from the final law. Should the European Parliament ultimately decide to wave the new law into being, we’ll be stepping up to ensure its implementation in the 28 EU Member States causes as little harm to the internet and European citizens’ rights as possible.