EU proposes overhaul of copyright laws for internet age

The European Commission proposed copyright reforms Wednesday aimed at making it easier for artists and news publishers to seek payment for work distributed on the internet, but it came under attack for curbing access to information online.

The measures are part of an overhaul of EU copyright rules, which date back to 2001 and are no longer appropriate to the internet era, according to the European Union's executive.

"We want to make online platforms responsible for passing on a fair share of the large amount of advertising they earn to publishing companies and creatives," said EU Digital Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.

Under the proposals, websites would have to ensure that artists are properly identified in uploaded works, for example through technology such as YouTube's Content ID system. Media companies would also be able to demand payment for the reproduction of their news stories.

The move was welcomed by some artist groups and by publishing houses as a victory in their fight for more control and a share of profits when their works appear on aggregation sites such as YouTube and Google News.

Media companies currently have no rights or protections to prevent the commercial use of the thousands of articles they produce daily, the German newspaper and magazine publishers' associations said in a joint statement.

"Creators' freedom of expression can only exist if there is a freedom to create and to be remunerated fairly," added GESAC chief Christophe Depreter.

But the plans also drew a barrage of criticism, with digital rights groups and industry associations lashing out at what has been dubbed a "link tax" for websites that direct readers to news stories.

"Hyperlinking will not be taxed in future," stressed commission Vice President Andrus Ansip, adding that this would remain a "basic freedom in the internet."

Nonetheless, Google vice president Caroline Atkinson said the proposals would "hurt anyone who writes, reads or shares the news," while limiting the US internet giant's ability to direct traffic to news websites.

Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights called the plans "poison for Europeans' free speech."

Meanwhile, the European Consumer Organization, BEUC, said measures aimed at identifying commercial music or video clips would "punish millions of consumers" who share self-made song remixes or family videos containing snippets of music or film.

The commission also proposed measures that would help broadcasters make online content available in other member states. But BEUC argued that the plans fall short of ending geo-blocking.

The proposals will require the approval of EU member states and the European Parliament before taking effect. Oettinger called for swift consultations, to be concluded by the end of 2017, so the measures can be implemented before technology develops further.

Last update: Wed, 14/09/2016 - 17:33
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