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Will the EU Copyright Directive Change the Way We Use the Internet?

NL_EU-copyrightIn a move to provide fair compensation for writers, actors, musicians, and other copyright holders, the EU has passed a law that changes how copyrighted content posted online is governed. It’s a significant change, so here’s a summary of the basics and what it might mean for publishers.

Details of the EU Copyright Directive

The EU Copyright Directive is set to make extensive changes for how online content is controlled across Europe — and due to the global nature of the internet, the effects will go far beyond Europe’s borders. Two sections of the directive are causing the greatest outcry: Article 11 and Article 13.

  • Article 13. Under this part of the new legislation, internet giants such as YouTube, Facebook, and Google News will be liable for content that users upload. Specifically, they will be liable for copyright infringement issues. Under current laws, copyright holders must contact the platform and issue a take-down notice. The new reform puts the responsibility on the platform to determine whether uploaded content is copyrighted and to take it down or face a lawsuit.

Content creators (e.g., writers, actors, musicians, and traditional media companies) largely support the legislation because it will provide fair compensation for their intellectual property and help fight online piracy. Creators will be in a stronger position to negotiate fair license fees when their works are used by big online platforms. The directive also reduces the “value gap” between the profits made by internet platforms and by content creators, and it encourages collaboration between these two groups.

  • Article 11. This section of the mandate allows publishers to charge search engines or news aggregators such as Google News and Google Search when those platforms display snippets of a publisher’s content that they link to. However, throughout the approval process, the wording of the law has changed to protect “very short extracts” from the tax — but the legislation leaves it up to individual countries to determine what is considered a very short extract.

Arguments from critics

article11-13Opponents of the new copyright directive fear that it will fundamentally change the way people use the internet. They fear that Article 13, which they’ve nicknamed the “upload filter,” will restrict free speech. Media platforms will have to use upload filters to check for copyrighted material, and there is great potential that fair use content will be falsely blocked. Critics are afraid that online content publishers will no longer deliver the same range and quality of content.

Critics of Article 11, nicknamed the “link tax,” fear that search engines and news aggregators may have to shut down if they can’t post snippets without being taxed. Google has said that if news providers choose to charge for publishing snippets, it will cut way back on the content that it returns in search — which could drastically affect content providers and users. A similar “link tax” law in Spain caused Spanish Google News to shut down, resulting in a drop in traffic for Spanish content providers.

What the copyright changes mean for online journal publishers

Although the legislation helps protect journal content against copyright infringement, and publishers will now have the right to set terms and conditions for others to reuse their content commercially, the reforms will have little direct effect on journal publishers. To open access publishers who may have been worried, Articles 11 and 13 won’t apply.

According to SPARC Europe, academic journals are excluded from the scope of Article 11, which means sharing snippets of those publications isn’t subject to the link tax. Academic journals are also outside the scope of Article 13, meaning they aren’t responsible for monitoring their content for copyright infringement. They can continue working under the current notice and takedown rules.

At this time, it’s difficult to say if the new rules will affect the diversity of content uploaded to the internet, or whether it will harm researchers’ ability to search for content. It will be interesting to see the effects of the directive as the EU begins to roll it out.

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