The European Union (EU) Parliament has voted in favor of the Copyright Directive, a legislation focused on updating the online EU copyright law, something that will leave an impact much beyond Europe.

The amended version of the EU copyright law has been in the making since 2016 and has begun gathering controversy, owing to the fact its implementation might change internet the way we know it.

On the one hand, it could protect copyright ownership in a way that’s never happened before.

On the other, it could force giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter to make unprecedented changes and perhaps even revisit their business models.

A quick summary of EU copyright laws 2018 – and how it could impact you

This section tells you, in the briefest way possible, what the EU copyright directive is, what are its likely impacts the EU copyright laws were to be fully implemented, what it could mean for the internet and everyone else.

What is it that we’re talking about?

On September 12, 2018, the EU Parliament voted 438-226 in favor of Copyright Directive (39 abstained from voting).  Next, the EU member states would vote over it within their respective homes before returning to the European Parliament by early 2019.

Why is EU copyright law raising controversy?

It holds responsible platforms for making sure they have an agreement with copyright owners for every single piece of content.

In simpler words, platforms dependent on user-generated content (Facebook ,Twitter etc) will held responsible for verifying that the copyright of every single line of text, every pic, every meme and every video. The is the user isn’t the copyright owner, the platform must find a way to filter them out.

Platforms that crawl and index sites to rank them  (Google, Bing etc) – basically search engines – will need copyright permission for every single site they crawl and index.

Who could benefit from the EU copyright law?

Artists, singers, musicians and content generators (naturally that includes newspapers and publications) will stand to gain.  They will be ensured compensation (or credits) by platform operators and content aggregators.

Which all big online entities would be impacted by the EU copyright law?

All. Large, for-profit commercial organizations like Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will need to make a huge number of changes in their copyright tracking software and filters.

Even Wikipedia will be impacted in the sense that it would have to ensure copyrighted material isn’t uploaded. (Most EU copyright law news highlight this.)

What will happen to the smaller players?

That depends on how small is small.

Smaller players would either be exempt from the law or could be wiped out because they might not be able to fulfill the copyright verification obligations. How long they will be exempt remains unclear at the moment.

How does it impact you?

You may not be able to post memes or share links – it’s being termed the “link tax”. And – if Julia Reda got it right – you may not even be able to share headlines that belong to other publications but you find interesting. Goodbye ‘Trump sues himself’.

Infographic: EU copyright law explained

Here’s an infographic on EU copyright directive that explains the current status of Directive:


A detailed study of EU copyright law 2018

The full title of the directive is Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market, but to keep things simple we’ll refer to it as the Directive.

While there are multiple posts and articles on the net regarding the new Directive (there are a lot of EU copyright laws memes as well), there are relatively few that bring the actual text of EU copyright law reform into the discussion.

You may want to read the full text of EU copyright directive.

In this post, we’ll discuss the new EU copyright laws with a specific focus on Article 3. Article 11 and Article 13 of the Directive, which are the most important articles of the proposed law, will be taken up in the next post.

Article 1 of the Directive provides the scope while Article 2 defines its key terms. The next article, European copyright law Article 3, deals with text and data mining.

Article 3 of EU copyright laws: A brief commentary

Paragraph 1 of Article 3 reads:

  1. Member States shall provide for an exception to the rights provided for in Article 2 of Directive 2001/29/EC, Articles 5(a) and 7(1) of Directive 96/9/EC and Article 11(1) of this Directive for reproductions and extractions made by research organisations in order to carry out text and data mining of works or other subject-matter to which they have lawful access for the purposes of scientific research.

As you can see, Article 3 instructs members states to provide exceptions for reproduction and extractions scientific research.

While short, Article 3 is very important in the way it would be interpreted, especially for search engines like Google or Bing.

For that, we’ll need a very brief recap of the way search engines operate.

Search engines (basically their AI-powered bots) ‘read’ through every page and blogposts (if any) of every website that has consented to be indexed.

After the bots read through each of the pages and blogposts on the website, one of the following two things happen:

Scenario 1:

The bot finds some lines on every page and every post that best summarizes and represents that  page or that blogpost. It will directly copy, without any changes, that text of 2 or 3 lines . When the search engine indexes and ranks the site, it will reproduce those 2 or 3 lines, along with the hyperlink. Giving these 2 or 3 lines provides a much better context to reader who will decide whether or not to click upon the link and read further.

Scenario 2:

The bot doesn’t any ready-made sets of lines that perfectly summarize the page or blogpost. Based on its own AI training and a few other factors, the bot will combine a few phrases from different lines and build 2 or 3 lines on its own. When indexed, the site shows these 2 or 3 lines to the reader, who may or may not click upon the link.

Where do search engines stand with reference to Article 3?

As you can see, in either of the two scenarios, the search engine, one way or the other, has copied text from the site and displayed it in its search results. According to traditional copyright laws, there is no copyright infringement because:

a. Search engines don’t claim any rights over the text they have copied.

b. The amount of text copied is so small it can easily qualify as citation.

c. Most importantly, search engines clearly mention the text source, so there’s no question of plagiarism either.

However, by current the definitions, search engines aren’t research organizations, so they may not get any exemptions in EU copyright laws.

That said, search engines do go a long way in furthering our research activities (and do not charge us a fee for carrying out the search). How the EU Directive interprets the role of search engines will decide the fate of our internet searches. And this is where European copyright law Article 3 (and Article 2) become important.

EU copyright law and the GDPR

Some experts draw parallels between the proposed European copyright law and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that came into force a few months back. And that’s not without reason.

Here’s a few similarities between the EU copyright laws and the GDPR:

  1. Both aim to place the individual above powerful organizations.
  2. Both deal with the primacy of right of ownership. The EU copyright law reform deals with ownership of copyrights while the GDPR targets ownership of data.
  3. Both focus on activities carried out within the EU, but actually impact people and businesses far beyond Europe.

This is the end of Part 1 of our two-part series of EU copyright law explained. Part 2 will discuss Articles 11 and 13 and quote some expert views.