EU Parliament stops controversial copyright reform

For the time being, the European Parliament has rejected plans to reform the EU copyright with the controversial upload filters. MEPs on Thursday in Strasbourg voted against the negotiations on the current legislation going into the next round with the Member States. Instead, it is expected that Parliament will revisit the draft and make amendments in September. The deputies could then reject him.

On Thursday, 318 MPs voted against the draft and 278 for it. 31 abstained.

One of the reform proposals is that online platforms such as YouTube will have to check whether they are protected by copyright while uploading content. Technically, this would be possible with upload filters, a special software.

It also concerns the introduction of an ancillary copyright (LSR) in the EU. After that, platforms like Google should no longer be allowed to display headlines or clippings of press texts in the future. They would need a permit and would have to pay if necessary. Critics see in the plans a danger for the free Internet.


The vote was a “stage victory for the freedom of the Internet,” said the SPD European politician Tiemo Wölken. “We now have the opportunity to find a proportionate solution” without interfering too much with freedom of expression. Pirate politician Julia Reda, who is a member of the Green Group, said, “We can not allow news sharing to be censored.” German consumer advocates spoke of a “reason for hope, but not yet to cheers”. The concerns of the delegates against upload filters and ancillary copyright would also have to be reflected in the final text, said the Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband.

Disillusioned on Thursday, however, were media workers. The Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers and the Association of Magazine Publishers declare: Without its own protective right of the press, network giants could continue to use digital newspapers and magazines for commercial purposes without paying. The past few weeks have shown how powerful the digital platforms are with regard to clarification of the legal framework conditions, criticized the Bundesverband Musikindustrie. “Today is not a good day for the entire creative industry.”

The proposal for copyright reform goes back to the then EU Digital Commissioner Günther Oettinger, who submitted it in 2016.

The most important questions and answers

Even if it is an intermediate stage, the emotions boil up. Internet activists and net politicians from various parties see a threat to the Internet. By contrast, the new rules include newspaper publishers, the Federal Association of the Music Industry and prominent artists such as Paul McCartney and Udo Lindenberg.

What are the issues of the planned reform?

At the heart of the debate are two planned innovations. There are the so-called upload filters. This is software that allows Internet platforms to check in advance whether pictures, videos or music uploaded by users are protected by copyright. The new EU rules would require certain websites, such as Youtube, to seek the consent of potential rights owners, even in the case of user-uploaded content. Technically, this is possible with the upload filters. Until now, platforms have had to delete content only after an infringement has been detected and reported to them.

Second, it is about the ancillary copyright (LSR). According to this, portals such as Google News should no longer be able to easily display headings or short excerpts of press releases in their results. Instead, they should ask publishers for permission and pay if necessary.

What should the new rules bring?

The advocates want to achieve that newspaper publishers, authors, record companies and other rights holders get more of the cake of the major Internet companies. Copyrights are violated on the net in large numbers, from the song to the entire movie, argues the CDU MEP Axel Voss, who endorsed the reform and who has worked to the vote text. “The damage is immense.” It is about the fundamental question: “Do we still want to know analog copyright applied in digital?”

Which arguments collide in the dispute?

The opponents see for example in the ancillary copyright law disadvantages for publishers. These are dependent on being listed by search engines and therefore have a weak bargaining position with Google and Co. The publishers BDZV and VDZ, however, argue in the field, “for the protection of free, independent journalism in the digital world” is the ancillary copyright law necessary – Given the market power of Internet giants, it needed reliable rules.

Critics also claim that the law provides for a LINK tax for home users. They argue that private Facebook or Twitter users would have to pay in the future if they post a link to a newspaper article including a headline in their profile. However, the Voss design does not cover that. It states that the law should not discourage individual users from the “legitimate private and non-commercial use of press releases”.

The upload filters are error prone, it is said by critics too. “It is extremely difficult to determine in individual cases, whether a copyright infringement exists or not,” says Oliver Süme, CEO of the Association of Internet Economy eco. This could block content that is likely to go online, such as satirical works. MEP Voss disagrees: users’ own creations – such as self-edited videos or Internet insider jokes, so-called memes – would not be covered by the software. “The individual is not affected at all.”

In addition, critics fear the death of online platforms. Especially small site operators could not afford expensive upload filters, says Internet entrepreneur Stephan Wolligandt, who collected more than 700,000 votes against the reform plans in an online petition by Wednesday. “We think the platforms will not expose themselves to the new liability risks.” The result: they went offline. This contradicts the EU Commission: affected by the proposed rules are only platforms that “large amounts” of protected works spread.

Ultimately, there is censorship danger, worry opponents. Providers and platforms would decide in the future what people would see on the Internet and what was right or wrong, says Suetter of the eco-Verband. “This is a shift from constitutional tasks to the private sector, which I find extremely questionable.” In his opinion, the upload filters also carry risks of misuse: “Once the technology is there, it can be ‘fed’ with every parameter.” On the other hand, MEP Voss argues that, for example, if a government wants to restrict freedom of expression on the Internet, then it certainly does not need to resort to copyright-recognition software.

What happens now?

The opponents under the deputies have a vote for Thursday enforced – and won for the time being. The theme is now in September again in Strasbourg on the table. The deputies could then enforce all sorts of changes – or reject the text completely. Then the reform would have failed for the time being.

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