Copyright reform: the forthcoming EU directive we'll all be worrying about in a few years time

On June 20, the Legal Affairs committee of the European Parliament will vote on a proposed directive for Copyright reform. Sounds obscure? It is actually a hotly debated topic: the new directive may well shape how the internet will look like in a few years, among other things changing how linking and uploading of contents works.

This word cloud represents the word frequency of all English-language tweets making reference to "copyright" by members of the European posted in the last month. See the tweets and tweak the settings of the word cloud with the Quote Finder.

The Quote Finder

This article is largely based on the information gathered by the Quote Finder, a tool that we developed in order to easily monitor and browse the tweets published by all the members of the European Parliament, spotting trending keywords, influential actors, and more. The tool is freely available to everyone. 

On 25 May 2018, the new EU data protection regulation also known by its acronym GDPR has become directly applicable in all EU member states. In recent weeks, as companies and organisations hurried to comply, email inboxes were flooded with targeted messages. The GDPR has seemingly caught players big and small by surprise, including some national data protection authorities themselves, in spite of the fact that the regulation was first proposed by the EU commission in 2012 and adopted in its final form in April 2016. Similarly to the GDPR, in a few years time, the proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market currently under debate will likely also impact the daily lives and online habits of EU residents. Due to the technicalities involved, in spite of its broad scope, and again similarly to the GDPR, it has been generating heated debate among hacktivists, media professionals, and digital common advocates, but has so far gathered little media attention.

As the EP Legal Affairs committee is scheduled to vote on the current proposal on June 20-21, a number of MEPs have started talking about it on Twitter (22 MEPs have mentioned 'copyright' in 119 English-language tweets in the last three months). Looking at these tweets, one would be hard-pressed to find any MEP voicing support for the directive in its current form. With hashtags such as #SaveYourInternet, #FixCopyright, #CensorshipMachines, #savethelink, and #LinkTax, almost all MEPs who speak their mind about the proposal on Twitter do so to criticise parts of it.

Indeed, more than a hundred MEPs across the political spectrum (but with almost no member of the EPP) explicitly oppose article 11 of the proposal, which aims at boosting publishers' incomes by introducing a fee even on snippets of texts, frequently posted along with links.

Also, article 13 (on mandatory preventive filtering of contents uploaded online) has been harshly criticised by a diverse range of actors, from the Wikimedia Foundation and Creative Commons to lobby groups involving major for-profit internet companies. Content creators (e.g. "Copyright 4 creativity") and open source organisations (e.g. "Save code share") have been actively campaigning against the proposed provisions. A recently published open letter by dozens of Internet pioneers and luminaries highlights some of the main concerns.  

Article 3 (on text and data mining), an otherwise niche topic, has also been criticised by MEPs, by public domain supporters, as well as by many working in this field (for-profit and not-for-profit), including an EU-sponsored research network that aims at “improving the uptake of text mining and data mining (#TDM) in the EU.”

Among MEPs, the major (and perhaps the only) voice on Twitter that supports the current proposal is its rapporteur Axel Voss (EPP). In spite of this, even some of the most divisive provisions included in the proposal are allegedly expected to be approved by the relevant EP committee next week. For more arguments in defence of this reform, see also the Empower Democracy campaign set up by a number of big publishers in Europe.

The most vocal MEP against the proposal is Julia Reda (Greens–EFA), who has been extensively tweeting about the proposal, and has set up a dedicated section on her own website detailing her criticism and providing more information about all the steps the proposal must go through in order to be approved.  

Campaigns against the proposal include Save the link, Save your internet, Save code share, and Fix copyright. The proposal itself, as well as relevant official documents can be found on the European Parliament official website.

Disclaimer: as the author of a package for the R programming language aimed at facilitating text mining, I am myself concerned by the limitations on text mining included in the proposed directive; with the new directive, depending on a subject's affiliation, structured analysis of online contents may or may not be allowed. As someone using open source software and writing and sharing code, I am also worried by the potentially disruptive impact of upload filters (as per the proposed art. 13) on open source communities (see the above mentioned campaign "Save Code Share").

Available translations
Wednesday 13 June 2018


Giorgio Comai


OBC Transeuropa
share subcribe newsletter