EU member states approve controversial copyright reforms

People gather at the front of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg to show their support for the bill. Credit: AP

EU member states have given the green light to controversial copyright changes "fit for the digital age".

Nineteen countries, including the UK, voted in favour of the changes which aim to make tech giants more responsible for paying creatives, musicians and news outlets more fairly for their work online.

Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Finland and Sweden voted against the changes, while Belgium, Estonia and Slovenia abstained.

Opponents, including politicians, are concerned the changes could have an impact on freedom of speech and expression.

Campaigners show their support for the new copyright laws which MEPs voted in favour of in Strasbourg. Credit: AP

Under the new rules, Google and other online platforms will have to sign licensing agreements with musicians, performers, authors, news publishers and journalists to use their work.

They will also have to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials.

Google said the new rules would hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies, while critics said it would hit cash-strapped smaller companies rather than the tech giants.

However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker hailed the move the “missing piece of the puzzle” for completing Europe’s digital single market.

He said: “With today’s agreement, we are making copyright rules fit for the digital age.

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

Nineteen countries voted for, while six voted against Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

The latest vote comes after the majority of MEPs approved the divisive reforms in March and rejected making any individual amendments by a slim majority of five votes.

Supporters in the creative, music and journalism industries have long argued that the Copyright Directive will enable content-makers to be fairly paid for their work, while opponents, including the tech giants themselves, fear the changes will have an impact on freedom of speech and expression online.

Two parts, Article 11 and Article 13, have been the most contentious since talks started, with the likes of YouTube warning that viewers across the EU could be cut off from videos.

The companies affected by the changes argue the reforms are unrealistic and existing systems already pay artists fairly.

MEPs voted in favour last month. Credit: AP

Musicians Sir Paul McCartney and Debbie Harry are among the most vocal supporters, as are the European Alliance of News Agencies, which argued that it gives a chance to further develop quality news services and enables it to compete more fairly with tech giants.

Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson criticised the reforms last month, calling them a “classic EU law to help the rich and powerful” and a “good example of how we can take back control”.

EU member states will have two years to implement the reforms, although it is not clear what it would mean for the UK in the face of Brexit uncertainty.

The reforms are meant to make tech giants more responsible. Credit: PA

“This is a deeply disappointing result which will have a far-reaching and negative impact on freedom of speech and expression online,” said Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation.

“The controversial crackdown was not universally supported, and I applaud those national governments which took a stand and voted against it.

“We now risk the creation of a more closed society at the very time we should be using digital advances to build a more open world where knowledge creates power for the many, not the few.

“But the battle is not over.

"Next month’s European elections are an opportunity to elect a strong cohort of open champions at the European Parliament who will work to build a more open world.”