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European Parliament Passes Copyright Directive Giving Artists Greater Share of Revenue

The European Parliament passed a wide-ranging digital copyright directive Wednesday that will give film and TV writers, directors and performing artists the possibility of renegotiating their contracts for a bigger piece of the revenue pie.

The new legislation affects copyright fees for music streamers and user-generated platforms such as YouTube, and is expected to force large tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to start using filtering systems to block copyrighted content.

A separate piece of EU legislation, which is on track to get final approval in December, is instead expected to introduce quotas obligating Netflix, Amazon, and other streaming services operating in the European Union to dedicate at least 30% of their on-demand catalogs to local content.

Approval of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market was immediately welcomed by top European organizations representing the creative side of Europe’s film, TV and music industries. A large contingent of prominent European filmmakers had appealed to parliament members to approve the new rules at the Venice Film Festival last week.

But critics warn that the Internet’s free and open nature will come under threat, even as details of the legislation have yet to be hammered out. Wednesday’s 438-226 vote in the European Parliament, though a key step in the legislative process, is not the final one. The directive sets parameters for negotiations between the parliament, the European Commission and national governments, and includes amendments that still need to be thrashed out starting in October. If and when the law is finally passed, EU member states will have two years to implement the new rules.

Artists such as Paul McCartney, Paolo Sorrentino, Mike Leigh and Agnieszka Holland have expressed support for the directive. The Federation of European Film Directors, the Federation of Screenwriters in Europe and the Society of Audiovisual Authors said in a joint statement Wednesday that the parliamentary vote would help “create a level playing field” by allowing “artists, producers, rights holders, musicians and other creators the freedom to continue producing their work without fear of it being exploited without proper compensation.”

Helen Smith, executive chair of the European independent-music collective IMPALA, also welcomed the vote. “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….This means that we can finally enter the last phase of negotiations to secure a fair and sustainable Internet.”

The directive’s Article 13 calls on Internet giants to take “appropriate and proportionate” measures to prevent user-generated content that infringes a rights holder’s copyright. The provision has come under the most fire from critics.

In an open letter to the European Parliament prior to the vote, a group of Internet pioneers, including World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, warned that, while they shared concerns for a fair distribution of revenues, Article 13 was not the right way to achieve this. Requiring online platforms to automatically filter all user-uploaded content “takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” they wrote.

Roberto Viola, head of the European Commission department that regulates communications networks, content and technology, told Variety that Wednesday’s vote was “a very important result because it’s a clear signal that the European Parliament is ready to go ahead with this reform.” He said that “the whole world is looking at what is happening in Europe.”

As for the next steps, Viola said the EU parliament now has a basic text to open negotiations with the European Council and the European Commission, adding that he expects that a version of the law approved by all three EU bodies could be ready for a final vote by the end of the year. “The numbers make it clear that the negotiations are starting in a mood of mutual collaboration. I think we will soon reach a positive result,” he said.

The Assn. of Commercial Television said it would “continue to closely follow this issue” throughout the legislative process and urged “European policymakers to continue to stand up to online platforms and ensure the commission’s original objectives are maintained.”

Frances Moore, chief executive of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which has been fiercely critical of YouTube’s policies and royalty payments, said: “We now look forward to working with the three institutions in the forthcoming trilogue to ensure the value gap is effectively closed.”

Jem Aswad contributed to this article.

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