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European Parliament limits internet freedom in controversial copyright vote

Today, the European Parliament voted 348–274 to pass a new copyright directive that includes problematic rules that will harm free knowledge. They did so after years of discussions, revisions, and more recently street protests. We believe that this is a disappointing outcome, the impacts of which will certainly be felt for years to come.

As Articles 15 and 17 (formerly 11 and 13) of the directive will take effect across the European Union (EU), we expect to see direct repercussions on all online activities. Article 15 will require certain news websites to purchase licenses for the content they display. As a result, many websites that helped people find and make sense of the news may choose not to offer this type of service, making it harder to find high-quality news items from trusted sources online. Article 17 will introduce a new liability regime across the EU, under which websites can be sued for copyright violations by their users. This will incentivize websites to filter all uploads and keep only “safe” copyrighted content on their sites, eroding essential exceptions and limitations to copyright by making platforms the judges of what is and isn’t infringement.

Still, there are elements to celebrate in the new directive. A new safeguard for the public domain will ensure that faithful reproductions of public domain works remain uncopyrighted, even as they are digitized. Museums, archives, and libraries will now be able to provide digital access to out-of-commerce works that have not yet fallen into the public domain. Research organizations and cultural heritage institutions will be able to engage in text and data mining on works they have lawful access to.

While we are disappointed, the fight is not over. The impact of the copyright directive will be determined by how lawmakers in each country choose to implement it. As the copyright directive is implemented into national law over the next two years, it presents an opportunity for Europeans to proactively engage with policymakers and ensure national copyright protects internet freedom and empowers everyone to participate in knowledge. Many countries will be opening up their copyright law for amendments for the first time in years. Now is the time to advocate for the good and try to mitigate the harmful parts of the new EU Copyright Directive, and Wikimedia is committed to this task.

Although Articles 15 and 17 remain in the directive, Wikimedians are already working to ensure that they are implemented safely and interpreted in the best possible light in national law, while also pushing for safeguards that benefit the public like freedom of panorama or user-generated content exceptions.

It is disappointing that, in the end, the majority of members of the European Parliament chose not to listen to the millions of voices in Europe concerned about the direction this directive has taken. We look forward to making sure that national lawmakers in the EU member states will understand how their actions in future national legislation will affect internet freedom. Stay tuned to our blog and our public policy portal for future updates and ways you can help.

Jan Gerlach, Senior Public Policy Manager, Legal
Allison Davenport, Technology Law and Policy Fellow, Legal
Wikimedia Foundation

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