The proposals, which remain subject to potential change, would give content creators greater control over where their copyrighted material appears online and force online platforms to intervene to tackle unauthorised use of the material by users. In addition, they could force website operators and social media companies, among others, to pay fair and proportionate remuneration for the digital use of press publications.
The vote in the European Parliament had previously been delayed by some MEPs amidst heavy lobbying on both sides of the debate, including from technology companies and creative industry bodies, as well from civil liberty, digital rights groups and prominent individuals associated with internet-related innovation.
Updated proposals were subsequently tabled and have now been approved by MEPs, meaning the Parliament is now ready to open talks on finalising the reforms with the Council of Ministers, the EU's other law making body. The new plans were approved by 438 MEPs, with 226 voting against them. There were 39 abstentions.
"There is no doubt that EU copyright law requires modernisation in order to keep pace with the digital age," said Dublin-based intellectual property law expert Karen Gallagher of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com. "The fact is that copyright works will continue to be shared and made available online. Rights holders have increasingly begun to recognise that they cannot resist this, so it is better to receive some remuneration for the use of their works online, rather than nothing at all."
"Authors, performers, journalists and news agencies will all be pleased with the outcome of the vote today which seeks to put their entitlement to such remuneration on a legislative footing, and place them in a stronger negotiating position when it comes to determining what level of remuneration for use of their works is 'fair'," she said.
"The new rules will significantly impact service providers, which will have to pay record labels, artists and press publications for use of their content. They will also have to implement screening mechanisms in order to ensure that infringing content does not make its way on to their platforms, and that non-infringing material is not inadvertently caught in the screening process," Gallagher said.
"Service providers had previously argued that the proposals were disproportionate as they would require the implementation of costly and unreliable automated screening systems. The revised text makes clear that service providers will not only have to consider the costs of implementing automated systems, but will also have to dedicate human resources in order to police compliance with the new rules, and to deal with complaints when the screening process fails," she said.
"Wikipedia famously shut down its Italian page in July in protest at the proposals, claiming that if the proposed new rules came into effect, they could force its closure. The site should now welcome the news that uploading content to online encyclopaedias in a non-commercial way, or open source software platforms, is specifically excluded from the scope of the new rules," Gallagher said.
"With both sides of this debate so far apart, it was unlikely that MEPs could have reached an agreement that would have satisfied all of the relevant stakeholders. However, the European Parliament has sought to address some of the concerns raised by opponents of the original proposals in its revised text. By excluding small and micro platforms or aggregators from the scope of the new rules, and permitting the sharing of hyperlinks to articles, together with 'individual words' to describe them, MEPs have sought to allay the fears of those who argued that the new rules would spell the death of the internet and freedom of expression online," she said.