Sir Paul McCartney is among those supporting the contentious legislation; he believes the change would safeguard the "sustainable future for music".

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 5, 2018

On 5 July 2018 the EU’s Legislative Committee will vote on the potential changes to copyright law which would place more emphasis on websites to monitor possible copyright infringements.

The two most contentious sections of the proposed legislation are Article 11, which places more responsibility on websites to monitor content on their sites and enforce copyright laws and Article 13. The latter would make platforms directly responsible for copyright breaches in content they host. It would require companies to implement “effective technologies” to determine if user-generated content on their platforms violated copyright.

Currently, YouTube benefits from safe harbour loopholes in place in Europe. The proposed change would, in theory, eliminate the “value gap” and ensure recording artists receive fair compensation when their work is shared online.

Musicians supporting the changes

More than 1,300 musicians including Sir Paul McCartney, Lady Gaga, Ed Sheeran, Coldplay and Kraftwerk have added their names to a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker supporting the changes.

The letter outlines that consumption of music online has reached unprecedented levels but argue thes industry’s very future “is jeopardised by a substantial “value gap” caused by user upload services such as Google’s YouTube that are unfairly siphoning revenue away from creators.

“The value gap undermines the rights and revenues of those who create, invest in and own music, and distorts the market place.”

Proponents of the changes say the safe harbour provisions in copyright legislation where drafted at a time before online platforms such as YouTube had established a monolithic presence in the market for the consumption of entertainment. The argument runs that legislation which was drafted to provide a leg-up for what at the time were fledgling platforms has outlived its usefulness and fails to meet one of the primary objectives of copyright law, being remunerating creators.

Michael Dugher, CEO of Music UK said: “These EU copyright changes are aimed at ending an injustice that has seen Google’s YouTube and other big tech firms ripping off creators for far too long.

“These new figures expose the fact that Google is acting like a monolithic mega-corp trying to submerge the truth under a tsunami of misinformation and scare stories pedalled by its multi-million propaganda machine.

“Instead of mounting a cynical campaign, motivated entirely out of its self-interested desire to protect its huge profits, Google should be making a positive contribution to those who create and invest in the music.”

Widespread opposition to the reforms

There is significant opposition to the reforms and the vote is expected to be a close-run affair. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and internet pioneer Sir Tim Berners-Lee have been among those adding their voices to a giant online campaign against the reforms.

Critics have said the enforcement regime proposed by the new legislation would force websites to use automated filtering systems which could be used to curb freedom of speech. Opponents of the change have also said it would threaten remix and meme culture and disincentivise the creation of user-generated content.

Italy Wikipedia blacked out its content earlier this week to protest the changes. The editors wrote that “Wikipedia itself would be at risk of closing”.

“If the proposal is approved, it may be impossible to share a newspaper article on social networks or find it on a search engine,” it warned.

A group of academics, business leaders and computer scientists have penned their own letter rejecting Article 13. It describes the legislation as “well-intended” but ultimately dangerous.

“As creators ourselves, we share the concern that there should be a fair distribution of revenues from the online use of copyright works, that benefits creators, publishers, and platforms alike.

“But Article 13 is not the right way to achieve this. By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 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.”

Axel Voss, a German Member of European parliament from Angela Merkel’s Centre-right Christian Democratic Union, said the debate had been clouded by “fake news” and misinformation.

He said some of the commentary about the laws online was “going beyond what is acceptable”.

“We will not end the internet,” he said.

The European parliament’s Committee on Legal Rights previously voted in favour of the changes. The upcoming vote will involve a broader group of parliamentary members.