By Lucas Laursen
September 13, 2018

Normally legislators pass controversial bills when nobody is looking—say, in mid-summer, when everyone is on vacation. But after an outcry and a failed vote at copyright reform this July, the European Union Parliament approved a mandate to revise copyright yesterday, with most Europeans back at the office and clicking on memes.

The proposal could force content hosts such as YouTube to improve their ability to filter out repeat copyright violators. It could also make it easier for creators of content to charge those who use snippets of their work that exceeds the so-called “permitted use.” Spain approved a similar provision in 2014 that persuaded Google to shutter the Spanish portal of its Google News service, which consisted of snippets from and links to news stories.

The proposed directive is a form of draft legislation that the EU Parliament will now take to the other two branches of the EU government, the Commission and the Council, for negotiations and final approval.

The reform amounts to a tussle over money between European content publishers and platforms such as Google and Facebook, which benefit from connecting viewers and that content, writes Politico (whose owners are lobbying for the directive).

While content services like Spotify choose the content they want and negotiate fees with the copyright owners, platforms like Google’s YouTube allow users to upload material. Under existing law, the users of those platforms are responsible for not uploading copyright-protected material, and platforms like Google must remove material if someone shows that it violates copyright. But because monitoring and requesting takedowns is such a hassle for content owners, platforms like YouTube can count on a lot of copyrighted content slipping through.

It is no surprise that Google has lobbied directly and via foundations it funds and political botnets, against the directive, The Register reports. Google makes money by selling ads alongside YouTube content—both legitimate and illegitimate.

Other critics of the proposal such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation argue that it is a mistake to give responsibility for filtering copyright to the biggest platforms on the Internet. Small-time content producers will end up spending too much time freeing their material from the bureaucratic snags of those filters, such as when a filter falsely claims their original material violates copyright.

Examples are easy to find:

Other users have weaponized take-down notices, to harass critics.

As for making memes (on your lunch break, of course) the directive’s sponsor, Axel Voss, said in a statement that small producers and meme-makers will be safe: “They will still be covered by the copyright exception that already exists in national legislation.”

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