EU’s controversial meme-banning copyright law passes first hurdle | Tech News

European Union

The European Union’s Legal Affairs Committee, known as JURI, voted on June 20 in favor of new controversial internet legislation that is designed to protect copyright holders but may have the adverse consequence of stifling an open internet and banning memes. The Copyright Directive includes two broad articles that require internet companies to install content filters to prevent the unauthorized upload of copyrighted content in the EU.

In order for the changes to pass, the legislation still needs approval from 28 EU governments in a plenary vote. If the European Parliament votes to pass this legislation in the future, these tougher copyright restrictions could, in theory, provide a model for U.S. legislators moving forward.

At the heart of the EU debate is Article 13, which is opposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as by academics, researchers, and even Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web. “By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering of all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step toward the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” the EFF wrote in an open letter ahead of the JURI vote, noting that the burden of monitoring the internet to prevent the upload of copyrighted materials falls squarely on the shoulders of small European businesses and startups. The EFF argued that larger American companies could afford to bear the cost of compliance.

“The damage that this may do to the free and open internet as we know it is hard to predict, but in our opinions could be substantial,” the letter continued. The committee passed Article 13 in a 15-to-10 vote, The Guardian reported. ”

The second controversial provision of the legislation is Article 11, which The Verge describes as a Link Tax. Article 11 requires companies like Facebook and Google to buy licenses from publishers before linking to their stories. These articles essentially reverse precedents set by EU courts. In a 2016 decision, the court ruled that simply linking to copyrighted materials does not count as infringement. In a separate 2012 ruling, the EU court in Luxembourg said that sites should not be compelled to install or otherwise operate content filters to check for privacy.

While the new legislation is intended to update copyright laws in the age of the internet to ensure that content creators are fairly paid for their contribution, critics fear that the laws could limit the sharing of information, which could affect memes and other types of content. “The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has also raised concerns about ‘prepublication censorship,’ given that automatic filters may be unable to correctly identify fair comment, satire, criticism, and parody,” The Guardian said.

In addition to a vote from the European Parliament, the new Copyright Directive could still be subjected to closed-door negotiations between legislators and member states known as trilogue negotiations. If the trilogue process commences, it would increase the likelihood that the Copyright Directive becomes law, The Verge reported. There currently isn’t a timeline for when a plenary vote is expected to occur, but it could happen between December of this year and the first half of 2019.

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