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The EU Copyright Directive

Updated: Feb 16

The Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, also known as the EU Copyright Directive, extended the existing European Union copyright law and is a component of the EU's Digital Single Market project. Its main objective, according to the European Council, is to protect press publications by reducing the value gap between the profits made by Internet platforms and content creators, to encourage collaboration between these two groups and to create copyright exceptions for text mining.

On 15th April 2019, the European Council voted to adopt the Directive as part of the European laws. Individual member states have two years to incorporate the new rules into their own national law. The new copyright regulations will ensure that online creators under Article 13 (now Article 17) will have greater responsibilities for copyrighted material being shared illegally on their platforms, more specifically with regards to digital and cross-border uses of protected contents.

This means that Information Society Service Providers (ISSPs) such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook are now responsible for taking down content if it infringes copyright. It also requires such ISSPs to enter into agreements with rights holders. The final wording of Article 13 sets out exactly which platforms will need to upload filters and which ones will not.

The original proposals of the Article directed member states to consider the size of the provider, the amount of content uploaded and the effectiveness of the measures imposed ‘in light of technological developments’. First drafts also mandated an appeals process and required content hosts to share ‘information on the use of content’ with the content's owner.

Many people are opposed to Article 13. It was dubbed the ‘meme ban’ as it was uncertain whether internet memes, which are often based on copyrighted images, would fall foul of these rules. Tweaks to the law, however, have subsequently made an exception for content used for the ‘purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche’, meaning that memes may not necessarily be caught out by the directive.

Furthermore, there is still a concern that smaller websites will struggle to track down and pay copyright holders or develop content filters that automatically block suspect material.

Article 11 (which has been passed as Article 15 in the final draft of the directive) is another controversial piece of the regulations. It refers to the ‘link tax’, which will stop technology platforms from displaying clips or parts of other people's content on their own site, without crediting them or paying them. This means that search engines and social media providers will have to pay news publishers to feature snippets of their content.

The EU Copyright directive does contain an exemption for ‘legitimate private and non-commercial use of press publications by individual users’. This means that individuals sharing links on social platforms will seemingly be exempt from paying. There is still some uncertainty, however, as more people have an extensive social media following. The question remains as to whether a social media ‘influencer’ with a large fan base that shares links to other’s content would be classed as a ‘private and non-commercial’ entity.

As mentioned above, each EU member state will have two years to enact the Copyright directive and implement it into its own laws. It is not clear what will happen in the UK, especially with Brexit looming. If the process is extended or called off, then the UK may end up adopting the regulations and they might even be left in law post-Brexit.


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