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New European Law Will Change the Internet

A girl protests against article 13, concerning upload filters, of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market by the European Union in Leipzig, Germany
A girl protests against article 13, concerning upload filters, of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market by the European Union in Leipzig, Germany
New European Law Will Change the Internet
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On Monday, the European Council of the European Union, or EU, approved new copyright rules. They aim to give more protection to artists and news organizations. Critics say the new rules will limit freedom of speech and online creativity and punish smaller web companies.

Famous artists, performers and tech experts have spoken out both against and in support of the EU directive. The 28 EU members are required to establish the law in their countries. The law will have an influence on everyone, however, as the internet crosses many international borders.

Permission required

There has been much debate on one part of the directive that affects internet platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. The directive asks online platforms to require their users to get permission to upload any material from the creator of such materials. It says the platforms will be responsible for making sure that their users obey the law. Some think that meeting these rules will reduce freedom of expression on the internet and could result in censorship.

Another part of the law requires search engines (like Yahoo! or Google News) and social media sites to pay for linking to or showing a few sentences from news articles. Paying for each of those links will increase costs for the companies.

Effect on internet platforms

Some sites would be forced to get a written agreement to use music or videos. If not, sites would have to make sure they do not include unlawful copyrighted material. Computers will have to look for such material and remove it, since it would be impossible for humans to check the large number of uploads to the internet.

That could give large tech companies a major advantage over smaller companies. Google said last year it spent more than $100 million on a system for approving material on YouTube. More than 400 hours of content is uploaded every minute.

Will it change internet culture?

Critics say the EU directive could act as censorship and change internet culture. That is because the automatic filters may delete some material that should be permitted online. YouTube said that to avoid trouble in some cases, it would have to block videos if they are unsure about the copyright.

Some users worry that the new rules would stop creation of parodies and viral internet “memes” so popular in online culture. Such content is often based on or connected to existing songs or movies or other content. The EU directive permits this kind of use as an exception to its rules.

Julia Reda is a lawmaker with the Pirate Party, which campaigns for freedom of information online. “The new law makes everyone a loser … Artistic diversity has made the Internet colorful, but unfortunately the copyright directive will make the Internet duller,” she says.

Will it help writers and artists?

Some artists think the directive will help them. The music industry and other groups that collect fees say the change will help. It will require big tech companies such as Apple, Facebook and Google to pay artists, writers and creators more for their work. Google estimates it has paid out more than $3 billion to rights holders through its Content ID system, which was created in 2007.

Some high-profile artists have supported the change. Former Beatles member Paul McCartney wrote an open letter to EU lawmakers asking them to approve the new rules.

Others are afraid they will not earn much more money and that their creativity will be silenced.

But many worry it will change the internet as we know it. More than 5.2 million people signed an online appeal to stop the new rules. Internet stars such as Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales are against it. So is Wyclef Jean, the former leader of the music group the Fugees. He has said he is better off financially because fans can freely share his music on internet platforms.

German government spokesman Steffen Seibert says Germany wants to avoid upload filters and hopes “that user rights — freedom of opinion, about which there has been a lot of discussion here — be preserved.”

People protest against the copyright bill in Leipzig, Germany.
People protest against the copyright bill in Leipzig, Germany.

Last month, tens of thousands of people marched in cities across Germany to protest the directive. Poland’s leader has said his country will not enforce it, arguing it threatens freedom of speech.

Next steps

The EU’s member countries have two years to follow the directive by changing their own national laws. Six countries — Italy, Sweden, Poland, Finland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — voted against it, so enforcement is likely to be uneven. There will probably be many arguments in court before the laws have all been changed.

I’m Jill Robbins.

Kelvin Chan and Geir Moulson reported on this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

copyright – n. the legal right to be the only one to reproduce, publish, and sell a book, musical recording, or film for a certain period of time

censorship - n. the practice of removing things that are considered to be offensive, immoral, or harmful to society from books, movies, letters, and such

advantage - n. something (such as a good position or condition) that helps to make someone or something better or more likely to succeed than others

parody - n. a piece of writing, music, etc., that imitates the style of someone or something else in an amusing way

meme - n. an amusing or interesting picture, video or the like that is spread widely through the Internet

diversity - n. the quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.

dull - adj. not exciting or interesting

filter - n. software that prevents someone from looking at or receiving particular kinds of material through the Internet

preserve - v. to keep (something) safe from harm or loss

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