Last week, the EU’s highly controversial Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive cleared the final hurdle. The European Council ratified the Directive, just weeks after the Directive successfully passed in the European Parliament. Now, with the approval of both the Council and the Parliament, the Directive is poised to go into effect in two years.
The Directive overhauls copyright law in the European Union and has faced massive protests and criticism from digital advocates all over Europe over the contents of Article 13 (renumbered as Article 17 after a recent update). Article 13 of the Directive shifts the responsibility for flagging copyright violations from owners of the copyrighted content to the online platforms themselves. Tech companies and activists alike have stressed that compliance will be nearly impossible even for the tech giants—to say nothing of the smaller outlets—and may change the face of the internet as we know it. Many worry that if platforms are forced to police content, they will opt to ban certain types of content altogether, delivering a huge blow to freedom of expression on the internet. To top it off, the Directive is notoriously unclear: while its language clearly suggests that gifs and memes may become a thing of the past, European lawmakers have insisted that was not the case. Of course, in the U.S., Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act continues to protect online platforms from liability for violations of law committed by its users, but in the EU, when it comes to copyright violations, those protections will cease to exist.
Notably, unlike Regulations (for instance, the GDPR), which become law once they are passed by the central EU institutions, Directives have to be written into each member country’s national law. The two-year grace period is rarely strictly enforced so the change may take even longer, buying the Directive’s opponents some time to bring a potential legal challenge.