Tomorrow (5th July) the EU Parliament will vote on a contentious new Copyright Directive. The proposed law contains provisions which are intended to ensure that artists are fairly remunerated when their work is accessed by internet users.
In particular, under controversial Article 13, service providers such as YouTube, Twitter or Facebook would be required to either have a licence from an artist to allow a work to be uploaded to and accessed via their service, or they must prevent the work being made available via their service, including by implementing content-identification and filtering technologies where appropriate and proportionate.
Additionally, Article 11 of the proposed law requires online platforms to pay publishers a fee if they link to their news content.
There is fierce lobbying on both sides.
Organisations such as the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) are lobbying for the provisions to be adopted, citing the drop-off in revenues for recorded music and the value gap between the level of online consumption and the meagre revenue generated by it.
ISPs such as Google, which owns YouTube, oppose the measures for obvious reasons (licenses and sophisticated filtering software will cost money).
But opponents also cite concerns about the impact of the broadly-worded provision on the basic linking, sharing and creative aspects of everyday use of the internet by ordinary people and innovators. Headlines declaring the end of memes and freedom of expression on the internet abound. Regarding the need for sophisticated content-filtering software some have contended that this will prevent small innovators from developing and providing services online. Wikipedia in Italy has closed down in protest. In June 70 influential tech leaders, including Tim Berners-Lee, signed at letter opposing this "imminent threat to the future" of the internet.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week a sufficient number of MEPs raised objections to the proposals, forcing a vote which is now scheduled for noon on Thursday 5th July.
Article 13 is expressly stated to apply only to service providers who "store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject matter". Arguably this is not clear enough. (What are "large amounts" in today's data-heavy world?) But the intent behind the provision seems clear and admirable enough; if you stand to benefit from making other people's work available then you need to do right by them.
The BPI said: “[T]ech giants hide behind ‘safe harbours’ from liability to avoid paying fair royalties to the artists concerned. This antiquated EU rule has undermined creators’ incomes and investment in new talent, distorting the market for digital services by creating a ‘value gap’ with licensed services that pay fairly. Google said: “[W]e have music licensing agreements all over the world, including in Europe. “Through these agreements, we paid over a billion dollars to the music industry in the last 12 months. “We’ve always believed there’s a better way than this proposal, and that innovation and partnership are the keys to a successful, diverse and sustainable creative sector in the EU. “For both European creators and consumers, it’s vital to preserve the principles of linking, sharing and creativity on which so much of the web’s success is built.”