The European Union (EU), European Parliament, and European Commission came to a final decision on the Copyright Directive on 15th February. The new legislation was first proposed by the European Commission back in 2016 with the intent of updating online copyright laws aligned with today’s digital age. And now that the final wording has been agreed upon, the dramatic new regulations will likely be passed soon.

For Andrus Ansip, vice president for the Digital Single Market, the new regulations are long overdue. “The negotiations were difficult, but what counts in the end is that we have a fair and balanced result that is fit for a digital Europe,” he explains. “The freedoms and rights enjoyed by internet users today will be enhanced, our creators will be better remunerated for their work, and the internet economy will have clearer rules for operating and thriving.”

A number of groups in the entertainment industry also support the new copyright rules, such as the Society of Authors, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group. 

However, not everyone is as optimistic about the new directive, as many see the new rules as a major threat to the free exchange of information online. Two particular provisions, Articles 11 and 13, have drawn much flak from critics. Article 11 was dubbed the “link tax,” as it requires search engines and other sites to pay for the use of snippets. Meanwhile, Article 13, known as the “upload filter,” covers the need for content-sharing services to license copyright-protected material from rights holders. This means websites like YouTube, GitHub, and Instagram would have to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials. 

Tech giants, in particular, have been the most vocal in pushing back against these new regulations. A Gizmodo report reveals that notable persons in the field of technology signed a letter to the President of the Parliament last year, urging him to reject Article 13. It read, “By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.” Among the people who signed were World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle. 

In addition, YouTube previously voiced concerns against Article 13, stating that viewers across the EU may lose access to a large number of videos. It also pointed out that upload filters are not advanced enough to differentiate between copyright violations and “memes,” which is why the legislation may have a chilling effect on meme culture and the internet as a whole.

Meanwhile, Google has previously threatened to pull out Google News from Europe if the link tax pushes through. The tech giant reminded the EU of what happened when Spain made a similar move in 2014 — Google News was removed from the country and publishers lost the traffic Google provided. Google also pointed out that Google News is not a revenue-generating product, but rather a valuable service to society. 

This isn’t Google’s first confrontation with the EU. European Business Magazine previously covered the $5 billion fine imposed on the tech giant just last year by the EU. The EU then ordered the Google to change the way it puts search and web browser apps on Android mobile devices. 

Despite the development of the new copyright directives, Google is still gearing up for new updates slated for global release throughout 2019. In a January digital roundup by marketing agency Ayima, it was stated how Google emphasised the importance of links as a ranking factor. The company also introduced a new URL inspection feature in the Search Console, which would provide webmasters and SEOs with vital information on a single page. With the upcoming link tax, websites in the EU may be denied the traffic and additional benefits of these new updates, unless Google surprisingly decides to cooperate. 

All in all, the new copyright regulations will no doubt transfer power from tech companies to copyright holders in the EU, a shift that can be especially detrimental for tech startups that cannot afford prosecution. Whether or not the directive — along with the inevitable transformation it will cause — proves to be a boon for humanity as a whole is yet to be determined.