Has the EU just ended the internet as we know it?

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Yesterday (12 September), the EU Parliament voted through the EU Copyright Directive. This move will, according to critics, put an end to the open internet as know it.

We reported on what the EU Copyright Directive means for the developer world earlier this week. Now, that world has been rocked significantly, with engineers, technologists and free speech advocates searching for solutions for what looks like a potentially devastating result.

What happened in the EU Copyright Directive vote?

Articles 11 and 13 were both crucial issues in this week’s vote. They were the reason the directive was rejected back in July. The vote yesterday was on small amendments to these articles that, for the most part, keeps their intent intact.

Article 11 has been described as a link tax – it effectively hands publishers control over who can link to their content and how, while article 13 has been criticised for enforcing ‘copyright filters’ on websites and platforms where users upload content.


438 MEPs voted in favorr of the directive; 226 against it.

Why did MEPs vote in favor of the EU Copyright Directive?

The EU Parliament press release provides a good indication of the thinking behind the directive. It would seem that the intent is too remove some of the power from large tech platforms – like Google and Facebook – and return some power to media companies and content producers that have been struggling in the digital age.

The press release states:

“Many of Parliament’s changes to the EU Commission’s original proposal aim to make certain that artists, notably musicians, performers and script authors, as well as news publishers and journalists, are paid for their work when it is used by sharing platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, and news aggregators such as Google News.”

Alongside this, there are a number of exemptions in the legislation that the EU Parliament argues will ensure none of the consequences its critics have suggested could happen will actually happen.

For example:

  • Small and micro platforms are excluded from the directive.
  • Normal hyperlinks won’t be impacted by article 11: the press release states that ‘merely sharing hyperlinks to articles, together with “individual words” to describe them, will be free of copyright constraints’.
  • Wikipedia and open source platforms like GitHub will be exempt.

What happens next?

There will be a final vote on the directive in January 2019. However, if this passes, the implementation of the legislation might vary at a national level. Individual EU countries could choose to enact the directive in whichever way they choose.

Reaction to the vote

The EU Copyright Directive has faced intense criticism since it first appeared back in 2016 – but with the vote yesterday, organizations and individuals have voiced their concern at the result.

Julia Reda, MEP and member of the Pirate Party in Germany, who has been a vociferous opponent of the directive in Parliament, called it “a severe blow to the free and open internet.” Similarly, the Electronic Frontier Foundation published a forthright post against the EU Parliament’s decision:

“We suffered a crushing setback today, but it doesn’t change the mission. To fight, and fight, and fight, to keep the Internet open and free and fair, to preserve it as a place where we can organise to fight the other fights that matter, about inequality and antitrust, race and gender, speech and democratic legitimacy.”

The EFF also put together a letter addressed to Antonio Tajani, the President of the European Parliament. It was signed by some of the best known figures in technology, including Tim Berners-Lee, Guido van Rossum, and Jimmy Wales.

The letter ends:

“We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.”

The fight isn’t over yet, but you can sense palpable fear in many quarters about what this means for the future of the internet as we know it.