EU ratifies controversial copyright law reform

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The reform of copyright law is coming – despite all protests. Following the approval of the European Parliament, the EU states have now ratified it. The attitude of the federal government was also decisive.

The new European copyright law is now in place. The majority of the EU member states voted in favour of the controversial reform after a long back and forth. The German government also voted yes, which clears the way for the reform. Previously, the European Parliament had already approved the reform. The EU countries now have about two years to implement the new rules into national law.

After there had been fierce protests against parts of the reform, especially in Germany, the German government recently stressed that upload filters should be largely avoided during implementation. This refers to programs that recognize and filter protected content as soon as it is uploaded to the Internet. Until Sunday evening, several ministries worked on an additional declaration, in which this goal is recorded.

The copyright reform aims to adapt outdated copyright law in the EU to the digital age and ensure better remuneration for authors for their online content. In mid-February, negotiators of the European Parliament and the EU states agreed on a compromise. This was approved by the European Parliament at the end of March. The approval of the EU states is now the last step so that the reform can enter into force shortly. The countries had already approved the reform once in February.

If Germany had abstained today or voted against the project, a sufficient majority would not have been achieved. The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Italy, Finland and Sweden voted no. Belgium, Slovenia and Estonia abstained.

Concern about censorship

The protest against the project and in particular against Article 13, which is called Article 17 in the final law, was particularly strong in Germany. Critics argue that platforms such as YouTube should check whether content is protected by copyright when it is uploaded. In their opinion, this is only possible via filters that run the risk of filtering much more than is necessary. This would amount to censorship. From the point of view of the proponents, however, it is a question of forcing platforms that knowingly earn money with foreign content to comply with fair licensing.

Immediately after the decision in Luxembourg, the German government made it clear that the reform should be implemented as far as possible without the use of upload filters. “The aim must be to make the instrument ‘upload filters’ largely unnecessary,” says a statement made by a German representative in today’s vote.

Article 11 (Article 15 in the final text) was also controversial. It provides for an ancillary copyright for press publishers. According to this, news search engines such as Google News will have to pay publishers money to display excerpts of articles. Critics see this as a particular disadvantage for small publishers, which would have a weak negotiating position vis-à-vis Google. In addition, they point to Germany, where an ancillary copyright law has existed since 2013, but does not result in any significant cash payments to publishers.

EU candidate Weber appeases critics

Before the vote of the EU states, EPP top candidate Manfred Weber (CSU) already made concessions to the critics. He told the “Bild” newspaper that the effect of the new law had to be awaited first. “But should it really have negative effects, we will revise it again.”

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