EU copyright law could force tech giants to pay publishers

The EU parliament on Wednesday voted to approve controversial copyright reforms that have been in the works since 2016 and could transform the internet for users in Europe and beyond.

The Copyright Directive is meant to protect content creators and has received strong support from some in the artistic and media communities. But its critics—including internet pioneers as well as tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Apple—argue that the reforms would hamper the free flow of information, turn tech companies into content police, and lead to the web’s ossification.

At a session in Strasbourg, France, European lawmakers approved an updated version of the Copyright Directive, including the much-contested Article 11 and Article 13. Article 11 calls for news aggregators like Google to pay media companies a so-called “link tax” when sharing their content. Article 13 demands that platforms police the content uploaded to posts ahead of their publication by using automated software that would detect and filter out intellectual property violations.

Axel Voss, the German politician and member of the European Parliament (MEP) who led the initiatives on Articles 11 and 13, celebrated the vote and thanked his fellow politicians “for the job we have done together,” The Verge reports. “This is a good sign for the creative industries in Europe,” said Voss.

Critics argue that the most controversial part of the proposal will effectively force all but the smallest website operators to adopt “upload filters” similar to those used by YouTube, and apply them to all types of content, to stop users from uploading copyrighted works. That could pose problems, given how expensive such filters could be to develop, and the high likelihood of false positives.

The legislation will also require site owners to pay for displaying snippets of content. Critics have called this a “link tax,” though links and search engine listings are exempted from the requirement.

Although published versions of the proposal don’t explicitly require companies to adopt automatic filtering technology, critics argue that placing responsibility for policing content on platforms amounts to a de facto requirement for filters. Although the rules would only apply inside the EU, it’s possible that companies would apply filters globally, just as some companies are complying with EU privacy regulations even outside of Europe.

In a statement Wednesday, a Google spokesperson said, “People want access to quality news and creative content online. We’ve always said that more innovation and collaboration are the best way to achieve a sustainable future for the European news and creative sectors, and we’re committed to continued close partnership with these industries.” Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment.