The European Parliament has voted to implement wide-reaching reforms that will affect the way copyrighted content is consumed and distributed online.

In our latest edition of our Extended Play series, we explore what the EU’s controversial new copyright reforms could mean for the digital music industry.

The European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is a divisive piece of legislation that was recently passed by the European Parliament. It’s made up of a complex set of reforms that will have significant consequences for the internet in Europe, and though much of the directive is largely uncontroversial, there’s one segment in particular that has caused an uproar across the internet, provoking heated discussion and debate among those working in the creative and digital industries: Article 13.

What is Article 13?

Article 13 is a set of rules and regulations that dictates how “online content-sharing services” – platforms like YouTube, Soundcloud and Dailymotion along with social networks like Twitter and Facebook – should deal with copyright-protected content, specifying the degree to which they are legally responsible for identifying and removing user-uploaded, copyright-infringing content hosted on their platforms. Article 13 outlines the efforts they will legally be required to undertake in order to identify and remove that content.

Online content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorised protected works or other subject matter are not available on their services.

Article 13 of the EU Directive of Copyright in the Digital Single Market

Essentially, Article 13 says content-sharing services must license any material that is protected by copyright from the relevant rights holders. If that’s not possible and the material remains on the service, the company could be held responsible, unless it can prove that it made “best efforts” to get permission from the rights holder and acted swiftly to take down any infringing content of which it was made aware. Before Article 13 came into effect, platforms such as YouTube weren’t legally responsible for copyright violations, though they were expected to remove infringing content when asked. The new directive has made online content services legally liable for all copyright violations, demanding that they go to far greater lengths to address the issue and direct more revenue towards artists and creators.

READ MORE: YouTube Music: is there a future for the streaming service?

Why is Article 13 so controversial?

The controversy surrounds the issue of how services like YouTube and Facebook are expected to identify and remove content that breaks the rules: it’s a hugely labour-intensive (and expensive) process to scan the entirety of content being uploaded to these platforms each day. Every internet platform that falls under the Article’s specified boundaries – conditions relating to how long a site has been in operation, their turnover and amount of monthly visitors – will be bound by law to identify and remove content that violates copyright – this inevitably means implementing an automated filter that scans all content uploaded to their websites. This is a considerable undertaking, and could threaten smaller businesses and start-ups that don’t have the time or resources to develop their own filter system. Some critics have content-hosting platforms would be forced to pre-emptively license any piece of music, video or imagery that might possibly be uploaded to their services: this would be a colossal endeavour, and a considerably expensive one too.

YouTube has previously implemented a Content ID system which detects copyright-protected music and video, giving rights holders the option to claim ownership and either block or monetise the content in question. The system has already drawn criticism due to its tendency to flag false positives, causing issues for creators who haven’t intentionally broached copyright – if a vlogger walks past a car with the radio on while filming, for example, the system may detect that snippet of background music and immediately block the video. Critics claim that this is unfairly strict, and are concerned that the new filters could flag up content such as memes or reaction videos that features small segments of copyrighted content for purposes of parody. YouTube isn’t happy either: they’re acutely aware that the new legislation will force them to develop even stricter filters, further upsetting their user base and threatening their revenue streams.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki recently published an open letter outlining her objections to the legislation, claiming that “Article 13 as written threatens to shut down the ability of millions of people – from creators like you to everyday users – to upload content to platforms like YouTube.” The question remains, however, whether her allegiance truly lies with the users and creators that she claims to defend, or with the corporation and shareholders that she represents.

“Article 13 threatens hundreds of thousands of creators, artists and others employed in the creative economy.”

Matt Koval, YouTube Content Strategist

Who supports Article 13, and what does it mean for the music industry?

Not everyone’s against the EU’s new copyright directive – in fact, it’s been welcomed by a cross-section of the music business and many leading figures from the creative industries view it as a positive step towards empowering creators and artists, giving them greater control over the way their content is distributed online and ensuring fair and appropriate remuneration that they’ve historically been denied. Many creators would argue that big tech platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have been unfairly profiting from user-uploaded, copyright-infringing content since their inception, and that these updated laws are an essential step towards addressing the imbalance between the ever-increasing power and influence of tech companies, and the fundamental rights of artists and creators.

Those in favour of Article 13 view it as a progressive piece of legislation that brings copyright law into the 21st century, helping to develop a level playing field and move towards a fair and balanced relationship between the creators, artists, authors and composers who produce content and the digital services who control it’s distribution. Since these platforms were invented, there’s been a clear imbalance of power between the two parties, with outdated laws allowing tech giants to evade their responsibility to protect the rights of creators and artists: until recently, YouTube was a haven for user-uploaded music that flagrantly violated copyright. The previous laws enabled the platform to unfairly claim that it was not responsible for that content, while taking money out of the pockets of artists, songwriters, labels, publishers and organisations across the entire music industry.

Many prominent figures in the music business have enthusiastically welcomed the EU’s decision to pass the copyright directive, declaring that it allows creators greater freedom and control over their rights, provides them with fairer compensation, and recognises the immeasurable importance of the vital role they play in the contemporary digital landscape.

“The directive is good news for the digital world. It will lead to creators’ works being better valued on digital networks, and creators being more fairly remunerated. That is real progress.”

Music Business Worldwide

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