The final version of EU Copyright Directive ready, uncertainties remain

Following months of debates around the new Copyright Directive of the European Union, the negotiators agreed on a final text on the 13 February 2019. While awaiting formal confirmation, we give an overview of what changes can be expected in content sharing.

Caught in the act?

Originally, the aim of the Directive was the fair remuneration of copyright holders in the digital era, therefore, it focuses on for-profit businesses that stream music, offer video-on-demand services, aggregate news or host user-generated content. These platforms need to contribute to a level playing field by complying with new rules which they widely criticise.

According to Article 11, social sites, news aggregators, or media monitoring service providers are only allowed to publish a hyperlink without a photo or a snippet, unless they obtain licenses from copyright owners first.

Meanwhile, Article 13 goes after the platforms that host user-generated content, making them accountable for any copyright infringements their users might commit. To comply, platforms need to weed out copyrighted content, acquire license agreements from authors, and remove content as necessary.

In the crosshairs are allegedly giant corporations such as YouTube, Twitter or Facebook, and to cut some of their revenues to the benefit of authors. These corporations will have to heavily invest in upload filters and to nod to any license agreement they are offered by publishers.

Winners and losers

Smaller companies, lacking the financial resources and maneuvering options of the giants, will likely skip the expensive upload filters and licenses and, to stay on the safe side, rather sacrifice creative ideas or give in on business altogether. Only if the business is considered a startup by the legislation (has less than USD 10mn yearly turnover, is less than three years in operation or has no more than 5 million monthly unique visitors), will there be more options and less strict consequences for them.

NGOs, educational and research organizations and non-profit encyclopedias like Wikipedia, are also exemptions. No scientific paper has to pay “link taxes”, researchers are allowed text and data mining, and educators to use digital material across the borders without having to pay for copyright. But these institutions still fall under Article 13 and have to be careful with online content sharing.

The Directive also claims to reinforce individual user interests as they don’t have to worry about using copyrighted content due to new licensing rules and upload filters. They will also “continue to enjoy and share news hyperlinks as they do today.” However, critics insist the freedom of self-expression will suffer and envision platforms playing “content police” to prevail.

And it is still not the end of the story: the European Parliament and the Council will cast their votes about the Directive in March/April. And even if they vote in favour of it, there is a lot of uncertainty about practical issues that the Commission has to rule out, by issuing guidelines on the application.

Written by Anikó Jóri-Molnár

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