European Parliament

European Union member countries' national flags wave in front of the European Parliament on Oct. 12, 2012 in Strasbourg, eastern France. 

Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

Controversial reforms to copyright law have been approved by the European Parliament, leading to potentially huge changes to how platforms like YouTube handle user-uploaded content and fan-made music videos.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of the Copyright Directive by a clear majority of 438 votes for, 226 against and 39 abstentions. An earlier version of the proposal was rejected in July, following fierce lobbying from both the tech and music communities.

A large number of amendments have been made to the legislation since then, most notably revolving around the exemption of small and micro platforms, but the most contentious parts of the bill -- Articles 11 and 13 -- remain at its heart. The latter requires user generated content (UGC) platforms like YouTube and Dailymotion UGC services to implement automatic content recognition systems blocking any copyright infringing works, as well as to set up "easy redress" systems for works mistakenly taken down.

Opponents to the reforms argued that could put an end to memes, remixes and other user-generated content. Article 13 also requires platforms like YouTube to negotiate licenses with rights holders, effectively ending safe harbor provisions in Europe.

Meanwhile, Article 11, or link-tax as it has been dubbed by critics, grants new powers to news publishers by allowing them to claim remuneration for the online use of their work by aggregators such as Google News. The EU has stated that this will not prevent the sharing of hyperlinks to content such as news stories.

"I am very glad that despite the very strong lobbying campaign by the internet giants, there is now a majority in the full house backing the need to protect the principle of fair pay for European creatives," said MEP Axel Voss, who had led the push for reform.

In a statement released after the vote, Voss said he was "convinced that once the dust has settled, the internet will be as free as it is today, creators and journalists will be earning a fairer share of the revenues generated by their works, and we will be wondering what all the fuss was about."

Welcoming the European Parliament’s vote, which took place in Strasbourg, IMPALA executive chair Helen Smith called it "a great day for Europe’s creators."

"The Parliament has sent a clear message that copyright needs to be modernized to clarify obligations of platforms with regard to the creative works they distribute," said Smith, declaring, "The eyes of the world are on Europe to make online platforms more accountable and set new standards for creators online."

The same sentiments were echoed across the music industry with Anders Lassen, president of GESAC, the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers, hailing the vote as "a victory for Europe and its independence from a few tech giants who have profited off outdated legislation… to siphon value out of Europe and its creators." GESAC general manager Véronique Desbrosses called it, "a great political victory for authors, for culture, and for European democracy."

In the U.K., Geoff Taylor, chief executive of labels trade body BPI, said the reforms were "great news for music fans and for anyone who values exciting and original online entertainment" and "an important step towards creating a fairer internet that encourages and rewards creativity."

Meanwhile, UK Music CEO Michael Dugher congratulated, "the MEPs, British MPs, musicians, creators, investors and all who worked so tirelessly in support of these vital safeguards -- despite the campaign of misinformation by Google and their allies." He went on to warn against any "watering down of this breakthrough commitment to creators" and called for all parties to "work together to implement real change as quickly as possible."

Robert Ashcroft, chief executive of U.K. collecting society PRS for Music, praised the European Parliament for taking "a bold step forward to ensure a functioning and sustainable digital single market for creative content."

Endorsements have also come from IFPI chief executive Frances Moore, AIM CEO Paul Pacifico and CISAC director general Gadi Oron, who described the vote as "a historic decision that will send a ripple effect around the world."

"Despite an onslaught of misinformation by big tech companies, Europe has led the way in bringing fairness to creators in the digital world. This was a vote cast in Europe, but which has positive implications for the future working environment of creators across the world," said Oron. He went on to says that the proposed copyright directive "is a big step forward in restoring the value of works to creators who make them."

Pacifico described the directive as "legislation that stands to benefit the next generation of music artists and creators online who generate the content we all enjoy."

YouTube's owner Google has yet to comment.

Although today’s vote represents an important victory for the music community, it does not mean that sweeping copyright reform automatically takes place. The next step will be for the European Parliament to begin negotiations with members states and the European Commission to finalize the directive -- a process which could be completed by the end of the year.

After that, Member States still need to implement the directive with the U.K.’s forthcoming exit from the European Union a potential obstacle for one of the world’s biggest music markets to overcome if it is to benefit from the new laws.

The implications are nonetheless potentially huge for all parties, says Shireen Peermohamed, partner in the IP team at London law firm Harbottle & Lewis.

"What is clear," says Peermohamed, "is that content owners, content creators and online platforms, will now need to look carefully at how they may need to adapt their businesses to comply."

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