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Europe backs copyright overhaul that threatens to hit YouTube and Facebook hard

Key Points
  • The EU's copyright directive was backed by 19 countries, while six member states voted against and three abstained.
  • The legislation has been criticized Google and internet freedom campaigners who worry it will result in censorship.
  • It's expected to hit platforms that rely on user-generated content — like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram — hard.
People attend a demonstration against Article 13 of the planned EU reform of copyright.
Emmanuele Contini | NurPhoto | Getty Images

EU countries approved sweeping reforms to the bloc's copyright laws on Monday, marking a symbolic end to a political battle that has pitted tech giants against high-profile media figures.

The copyright directive was backed by 19 countries at an EU Council vote, with six member states — including Italy and the Netherlands — voting against it. Three countries abstained.

The legislation, which was passed by lawmakers at the EU Parliament last month, aims to update Europe's rules on copyright to reflect the challenges posed by the age of information. But it's been criticized by Google and internet freedom campaigners who worry it will result in censorship.

One of the most heavily scrutinized aspects of the law, Article 13 — or 17 as it's now numbered — would make tech firms liable for copyright breaches. This means they will have to acquire licenses from rights holders to be able to host such content in the first place.

Opponents of the law say this will lead to filtering systems that block everything from memes to GIFs before they're even uploaded. The EU, however, says this won't be the case, claiming that people will still be able to share such content freely.

Either way, it's expected to hit platforms that rely on user-generated content — like YouTube, Facebook and Instagram — hard.

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"With today's agreement, we are making copyright rules fit for the digital age," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement following the vote.

"Europe will now have clear rules that guarantee fair remuneration for creators, strong rights for users and responsibility for platforms."

The copyright battle has been characterized as "Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley," with musicians from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to Blondie singer Debbie Harry in favor and big tech firms like Google and Twitter against.

Edima, an EU tech lobbying group representing a number of Silicon Valley giants, has railed against the reforms, claiming they will infringe on internet users' free speech.

Artists and media firms, meanwhile, argue the directive is needed as they're losing out from the unfettered sharing of their intellectual property on online platforms.