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10 July 2020

European Parliament approves new copyright rules for the internet

27 March 2019

European Union

Creatives and news publishers in the European Union will be empowered to negotiate with internet giants thanks to new copyright rules which also contain safeguards on freedom of expression. On 26 March 2019 MEPs adopted the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive in plenary by 348 votes in favour, 274 against and 36 abstentions.

  • Internet platforms are liable for content that users upload
  • Some uploaded material, such as memes or GIFs, now specifically excluded from directive
  • Hyperlinks to news articles, accompanied by "individual words or very short extracts", can be shared freely
  • Journalists must get a share of any copyright-related revenue obtained by their news publisher
  • Start-up platforms subject to lighter obligations

This marks the end of the legislative process for the European Parliament that began in 2016. It will now be down to member states to approve Parliament's decision in the coming weeks. If the member states accept the text adopted by the European Parliament, it will take effect after publication in the official journal and then member states will have 2 years to implement it.

The directive aims to ensure that the longstanding rights and obligations of copyright law also apply to the internet. YouTube, Facebook and Google News are some of the internet household names that will be most directly affected by this legislation.

The directive also strives to ensure that the internet remains a space for freedom of expression.

How this directive changes the status quo

Currently, internet companies have little incentive to sign fair licensing agreements with rights holders, because they are not considered liable for the content that their users upload. They are only obliged to remove infringing content when a rights holder asks them to do so. However, this is cumbersome for rights holders and does not guarantee them a fair revenue. Making internet companies liable will enhance rights holders' chances (notably musicians, performers and script authors, as well as news publishers and journalists) to secure fair licensing agreements, thereby obtaining fairer remuneration for the use of their works exploited digitally.

For the full press release and texts of debates etc, see the EU Parliament website.


United Kingdom

The vote was welcomed in both the European and UK publishing sectors. However, due to Brexit, it is unclear whether the legislation will be implemented in the UK. For comments from the Publishers Association, Booksellers Association, Society of Authors and others, see The Bookseller of 26 March 2019. But businesses in the UK providing services in the EU will have to comply. For more information on what the changes mean, see The Guardian article of 26 March 2019 by Alex Hern.