Tech Giants Win a Battle Over Copyright Rules in Europe

Influential policymakers in Brussels such as the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, have seemed receptive to such arguments. A proposal was put forward to require websites to use filtering technology to block unlicensed content from being posted and to obligate them to pay fees for news articles and other material posted online.

The proposed rules would have added up to a sweeping change to copyright law.

Operators of websites have long been protected from liability when unlicensed content is posted by a user. Instead, they are required only to remove infringing material once it is brought to their attention. In effect, if someone posts a movie clip on YouTube, or shares the text of an article on Reddit, those websites are not held legally liable.

The new European proposals would put more responsibility on website owners, creating a potentially costly problem for sites that depend on user-generated material.

The most contentious provision of the plans would require websites to use filtering software to screen such content before it was posted. YouTube already has a system to weed out unlicensed material, but the European rules would have gone further by requiring others to use similar tools. Another requirement, favored by book and news publishers, would prevent websites from using pieces of their content without authorization.

Critics of the bill argued that it would lead to many unforeseen consequences, warning that it could even affect satirical content or the use of images in internet memes. They said it would restrict what was available online, and some described a provision requiring permission before websites used publishers’ content as a “link tax.”

“There’s no way that those algorithmic filters are going to be able to decide that something is fair use, parody, a meme or a mash-up,” said Danny O’Brien, international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights nonprofit group that opposed the bill.

In defeating the proposal, the technology industry showed that it still held considerable influence, even as it has faced widespread criticism over privacy violations, the spread of misinformation, accusations of anticompetitive business practices, and concerns about smartphone overuse.

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