European Union Passes Sweeping Copyright Reforms, Ending Safe Harbor For YouTube

European Union Passes Sweeping Copyright Reforms, Ending Safe Harbor For YouTube

Guest Post By: Richard Smirke

Record labels, publishers, songwriters and artists have welcomed the passing of controversial copy- right reforms that will transform how user-generat- ed-content (UGC) services like YouTube operate in Europe. 

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of the EU’s Copyright Directive by a majority of 348 votes for, 274 against and 36 abstentions. The run-up to the vote saw public protests in a number of European cities and an unprecedented multi-million dollar lobbying campaign from the tech sector and Google, which owns YouTube. 

The European Union has laid the foundation for a better and fairer digital environment — one in which creators will be in a stronger position to negotiate fair license fees when their works are used by big online platforms,” said Gadi Orondirector general of CISAC, the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, following the vote at the European Parliament’s seat in Strasbourg, France. 

Oron called it a “hugely important achievement” that will “lead the way for countries outside the EU to follow.” 

Before MEPs could vote on the final bill, the European Parliament ruled against a number of last minute amendments from MEPs unhappy with the final text. 
The proposed amendments included the deletion of Article 13 (renamed Article 17 in the consolidated text), which requires UGC platforms like YouTube to agree “fair remuneration” license deals with rights holders and makes them legally liable for hosting unlicensed content, effectively ending safe harbor immunity. 

In practice, that’s likely to involve YouTube using a stricter filtering system, although upload filters are not mentioned anywhere in the text and the directive does not specify what methods or tools platforms must use to block illegal content. Despite the objections of a select number of MEPs, Article 13 remains a key component of the copyright directive that was passed.

“Four years of titanic tussling later, our work to solve the ‘Value Gap’ now begins a new stage after this vote. Namely, to ensure that those who make the music make a fair return,” said John Phelan, director general of international music publishing trade association ICMP. 


Now that the legislation has been officially passed, all 27 EU member countries — a list that includes Germany, France, Sweden, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands — will have two years to transpose the directive into national law. Before that process can begin, member states will need to re-approve the Parliament’s decision on the EU Statute Book, most likely in early April, which is traditionally seen as a rubber-stamping exercise. 


It is not yet clear if the United Kingdom, the world’s fourth biggest music market, will adopt the legislation after it leaves the European Union, although it’s thought that if a Brexit withdrawal deal can be agreed, its laws would apply during any transition period. 

“This world-first legislation confirms that User-Upload Content platforms perform an act of communication to the public and must either seek authorisation from rightsholders or ensure no unauthorised content is available on their platforms,” said Frances Moore, CEO of international labels trade body IFPI, who thanked law makers for “navigating a complex environment” to pass the bill. 

Responding to the vote, Google Europe tweeted, “The #eucopyrightdirective is improved but will still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies. The details matter, and we look forward to working with policy makers, publishers, creators and rights holders as EU member states move to implement these new rules.”

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