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EU copyright reform proposal: 3 things businesses need to know

The controversial copyright measure is making its way through the European Parliament ahead of a committee vote on June 20 and parliamentary vote in July or September.

Members of the European Parliament are trading barbs over a proposed measure that could have drastic effects on the internet in Europe. The update to the EU Copyright Directive does a number of things, but the significant changes come to how information is shared and copyright infringement, specifically noted in Article 13 of the proposal.

The European Parliament described the law as creating "a new ancillary right for news publishers, often dubbed 'the link tax', and second, it places a new general obligation on internet platforms and websites to pre-monitor user content on their website for copyright infringements."

This has sent shockwaves through the internet and has pitted major news outlets and media companies against internet giants like Google and Wikipedia, which would suffer most under the new rules.

SEE: Intellectual property: A new challenge in the cloud (Tech Pro Research)

Jan Gerlach, Public Policy Manager for the Wikimedia Foundation, said the new rule "threatens freedom of expression, collaboration, and diversity online." She takes aim squarely at the Commission's suggestion that all websites needed to "implement upload filters, or, as they call them, 'effective content recognition technologies'."

"As currently written, Art. 13 would harm freedom of expression online by inducing large-scale implementation of content detection systems," Gerlach said. "People's ability to express themselves online shouldn't depend on their skill at navigating opaque and capricious filtering algorithms. Automatic content filtering based on rightsholders' interpretation of the law would—without a doubt—run counter to these principles of human collaboration that have made the Wikimedia projects so effective and successful."

The rule change is currently under debate and the European Parliament's legal affairs committee will vote on it on June 20. It will then move to a parliamentary vote in either July or September.

Here are the three things businesses need to know.

1. News sites to get extra copyrights

The law will require everyone to get a license from news outlets before they publish links to stories. The short snippet and photo you see when you share a story on Facebook and Twitter would now be considered copyright infringement.

Other countries like Germanyand Spain have tried link taxes before to no avail, and news publishers quickly soured on them as well. The only place to manage it effectively is China, where they have much stricter controls on the news that is published.

German politician and Member of the European Parliament Julia Reda said the measure would be nearly impossible for some websites to contend with and would place an unnecessary burden on the wrong people.

"Reciting a headline from the cold war era would suddenly require permission from the original publisher, who may have long since gone out of business. Where the Commission wants to apply this right to press publishers only, Mr. Arimont explicitly includes academic publishers, a move that would spell disaster for any open access initiatives," Reda said.

2. Copyright infringement checks

All internet platforms would be required to scan all user content for any potential copyright infringement. They do not say how websites should accomplish this task, and presumably assume they should either develop their own mechanism for checking user content or hire third-party companies to manage it for them, a costly endeavor for any business.

Dutch intellectual property professor Dr Martin Senftlebens said the rule would lead to "further market concentration and less information diversity."

"It will be much more difficult to find investors for new start-up platforms," Senftlebens said.

Some European parliament members backed the measure, questioning why websites can filter for racist or offensive content but cannot make exceptions for copyrighted material.

"There are filters in terms of sensitive content, fighting terrorism and racism and incitement to hatred - so why should it be so hard to extend filtering to copyrighted content? We have the mechanisms already," said French MEP Jean-Marie Cavada.

3. Review process

Websites will also be forced to create a review process to allow rightsholders to update this database of copyrighted works with more copyrighted works. This process will be costly for smaller websites and presents a host of problems that have yet to be addressed by parliament.

Cory Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote that the rule will fall apart because copyright infringement software is still not good enough. YouTube developed its own and is still continuously criticized by media companies for failing to stop more people from stealing work.

But at its core, Doctorow said, the law goes after the wrong people.

"Article 13 punishes any site that fails to block copyright infringement, but it won't punish people who abuse the system. There are no penalties for falsely claiming copyright over someone else's work. It will be a lot easier to make these false claims that it will be to figure out which of the hundreds of millions of copyrighted claims are real and which ones are pranks or hoaxes or censorship attempts," Doctorow said. "Article 13 also leaves you out in the cold when your own work is censored thanks to a malfunctioning copyright bot. Your only option when you get censored is to raise an objection with the platform and hope they see it your way—but if they fail to give real consideration to your petition, you have to go to court to plead your case."

Also see

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Image: iStockphoto/mrgao

About Jonathan Greig

Jonathan Greig is a freelance journalist based in New York City. He recently returned to the United States after reporting from South Africa, Jordan, and Cambodia since 2013.

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