The European Parliament has approved some proposed amendments to EU copyright law. The proposals must now pass a final step before becoming law. The stated intention of the amendments is to bring Europe’s copyright protection in line with how content is being created and used in the internet age. The text of the law is not yet finalized, and the vote on the finalized text will not occur until January 2019. However, speculation has only just begun as to what effect the proposed laws will have on the freedom of the internet. Of the 24 Articles proposed in the new Directive, 2 have received attention as being especially controversial: Article 11 and Article 13.
Article 11 proposes to grant the same rights to news media publishers as is currently provided to authors, performers, film producers, and broadcasting organizations. Some commentators believe this amendment will discourage some aspects of the exchange of news articles, such as “link previews” that show a snippet of the linked article to a reader. These commentators believe this will, in turn, limit access to information and boost “fake news.”
Article 13 proposes to increase copyright liability for popular websites that host user-submitted content. The current law places most of the responsibility for avoiding copyright infringement on the user who submits the content; but the proposed amendment redirects much of this liability to the hosting website. Commentators who criticize this proposed amendment include internet luminaries who argue the new law will stifle the freedom of information on the internet. These commentators believe that if the big internet companies who post user-submitted content are also required to police that content more closely, then that policing will necessarily be overbroad; and the result will be the muffling of the freedom of speech and creativity on the internet.
It is difficult to predict what effect the laws will have on the free flow of information and creativity on the internet. This unpredictability is especially true because the laws themselves are not yet finalized. So, between now and January 2019, the proposals are ripe for debate; and maybe the proposed laws are ripe for revision.