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EU Approves Revamped Copyright Rules, Which Would Force Internet Companies to Proactively Block Protected Content

European Union negotiators agreed Wednesday on codified language in a new set of sweeping copyright-reform rules — including a provision that would mandate YouTube and other internet platforms block copyrighted material when it’s uploaded. YouTube in particular has been particularly vigorous in opposing the proposed changes to the laws.

The finalized text of the rules must next be formally confirmed by the European Parliament, which holds elections this May, as well as the Council of the EU. After that, the EU’s member states will have 24 months to adopt the new rules into their national legislation.

“To finally have modern copyright rules for the whole of EU is a major achievement that was long overdue,” European Commission VP for the digital single market Andrus Ansip said in a statement released Wednesday. “The negotiations were difficult, but what counts in the end is that we have a fair and balanced result that is fit for a digital Europe: the freedoms and rights enjoyed by internet users today will be enhanced, our creators will be better remunerated for their work, and the internet economy will have clearer rules for operating and thriving.”

The final wording of the EU’s overhauled copyright rules includes the controversial Article 13, which would require internet platforms like YouTube and Facebook to proactively block uploads of copyrighted material. The provision has been supported by European producers and the music industry.

Article 13 would require internet services with at least 5 million average monthly users to “demonstrate that they have made best efforts” to prevent the upload of content flagged as copyright-protected by rights holders, per the final text of the rules. When there are no licensing agreements between an internet platform and right holders, the platforms will need to make best efforts to obtain an authorization. The “best efforts” verbiage had been criticized by European film and TV groups as too lax.

The intent of Article 13 is to let creators and actors in entertainment space “have more control over the use of their content uploaded by users on these platforms and be remunerated for it,” according to the EU. The proposed rules protect individual users’ fair use of copyrighted material, for example, in memes or parodies; also, students and teachers will be able to use copyrighted materials in online courses.

In addition, under Article 11 of the new copyright code, European news outlets will receive a new right to “facilitate the way they negotiate how their content is reused on online platforms.”

Google and YouTube have been staunchly opposed to the new EU regs, arguing that they will lead to unintended consequences that stifle expression.

In an initial statement, YouTube said: “Copyright reform needs to benefit everyone — including European creators and consumers, small publishers and platforms. We’ll be studying the final text of the EU copyright directive and it will take some time to determine next steps. The details will matter, so we welcome the chance to continue conversations across Europe.”

Article 13 “threatens the livelihoods of so many creators in Europe and around the world,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki wrote in a blog post last week. Presumably, Google and YouTube’s lobbying efforts will now shift to focus on members of the European Parliament to vote down the rules.

In September 2016, the European Commission proposed to modernize the two-decades-old EU copyright rules in order “for European culture to flourish and circulate.” In December 2018, EU co-legislators agreed on new rules to make it easier for European broadcasters to make certain programming available on their live TV or catch-up services online.

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