Free-Speech Pitfall Avoided in EU Copyright Reform

Free speech won an important battle in the copyright reform debate in the European Parliament, though many threats to our rights remain.

The Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee (LIBE) of the European Parliament (EP) voted against the censorship solution of the draft Copyright Directive last week. While the adopted version is far from perfect, Liberties sees significant improvements compared to the original version. We can consider it as a minor victory for freedom of expression.

The largest pitfall avoided

The original Article 13 would have forced internet companies that share and store user-generated content to censor uploads to their services. Liberties and 56 other human rights and digital rights organisations sent an open letter to EU policy-makers to delete the problematic Article 13. We argued that the proposal would result in censorship and deletion of online content, and at the same time would cause users’ activity to be constantly monitored. These conditions would violate freedom of expression, freedom of information and privacy. Not only human rights organisations, but leading scholars and academics have expressed their concerns about Article 13. Even member states have questioned the legality of the proposal.

The approved LIBE report on the reform proposes to remove the two most controversial parts of Article 13. First, it recommends removing mandatory filtering for every single upload to the internet. Second, it clarifies that measures to ensure enforcement of licensing arrangements should not include general monitoring obligations for internet companies.

What’s next?

The next parliamentary step will be the vote at the EP’s Committee of Legal Affairs (JURI). The vote in the Committee is scheduled for January 24/25, 2018. The recent vote on behalf of LIBE committee was to help JURI on the civil liberties questions by providing an opinion. LIBE voted in favour of human rights, but it does not automatically mean that as the responsible Committee, JURI will apply the same approach. At Liberties, we would expect JURI to follow LIBE's advice. But this is a controversial issue with numerous conflicting interests. This is why the fight isn't over at the parliamentary level. After the parliamentary vote, the next phase will be the trialogue negotiations between the representatives of the member states in the Council, the Commission and the Parliament.

The debate is far from over and we keep working on the Copyright Directive to make sure EU policy-makers take our human rights seriously. If you are interested in this topic or want to join us to fight against censorship sign up to our newsletter.