EU copyright changes can disrupt the way popular websites work
Article 11 is arguably less concerning for people, since it mostly concerns news publishers. According to the proposed changes, any website that posts links to news articles with added text from them, usually called snippets, will have to pay the publisher of the article a fee for using its content (EU is arguing snippets won't be affected, but the text leaves that possibility). For example, if a Facebook user decides to share an article on the social network and there’s an auto-generated preview with a thumbnail and a couple of sentences from the piece, Facebook will have to pay a fee to the linked website. While that might sound like good for news outlets, practice shows it has the opposite effect. In Spain, where a similar law was passed, the changes led to a sharp decrease in news sharing (Google decided to shut down its News service in the country rather than pay fees), which caused a drop in revenue for publishers and hindered news accessibility for readers.
Article 13, however, has a much bigger potential impact. In essence, it’s meant to prevent misuse of copyrighted content by shifting the responsibility from the users to the websites. Currently, websites that allow users to upload content warn them to not upload copyrighted materials. Of course, that still happens, and websites remove any after a request by the copyright holder. Big websites, like YouTube, already have automatic systems in place to remove infringing content, based on agreements with publishers.
If the changes are passed, YouTube, Reddit and any other platforms that let you upload files that are publicly visible, will have to monitor all content all the time. They will also have to remove anything copyrighted no matter if the right holder is against the particular use of its intellectual property (some musicians purposely allow all uploads of their music to stay on YouTube). Because this process will likely be automated, opponents of the law fear that the software will be unable to detect uses of copyrighted content under “fair use” and call the future content-scanning bots “censorship machines”. This means that using pieces of a copyrighted song or video for commentary purposes or parody can cause removal of the content.
While websites can easily diversify traffic coming from EU nations, implementing special rules for a particular user group can cause chaos on some platforms, which is why most websites are strongly opposing the new law. Smaller websites will have to pour resources into specialized software, which might hurt their profitability and competitiveness. If the vote succeeds, it might not be long before music labels and movie studios start pressuring US lawmakers to make similar changes.
During the initial vote in July, the proposed articles didn’t get enough support and were subjected to changes, the second vote on them is today (Wednesday).
Members of the EU Parliament voted in favor of the proposed changes, 438 vs 226 votes. This will initiate further discussions and potential amendments to the articles before a final vote in January 2019.