Facebook and YouTube will soon face strict new copyright laws across Europe that could impact what content users share on social media.
The new rules, which were initially proposed more than two years ago but were finally approved by the European Parliament last month and the European Commission on Monday, will require platforms that host user-uploaded content to cut licensing deals with creators so they are paid when people share their content online.
The law would apply to music and film producers, but also to newspapers and magazines, according to the European Commission’s FAQ page. The move is meant to hold tech platforms accountable for the content its users share, and to try to return some of the billions of dollars in revenue that Facebook and YouTube make each year to the people who actually create the content that appears on those sites. (Perhaps coincidentally, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently discussed a plan to pay news publishers for putting their stories into a dedicated news section in the Facebook app.)
What’s unclear is how exactly this law will be implemented and what, specifically, companies like Facebook and Google will need to do to comply.
YouTube, for example, already uses technology to search for copyrighted videos and music through a matching system called Content ID. Facebook offers something similar, called Rights Manager.
In YouTube’s case, if content owners find that someone else has uploaded their video, they can ask YouTube to remove it or make money off the video by having YouTube run ads alongside it.
It’s possible that matching technology could be used for these new EU laws, though the European Commission FAQ page says building those kinds of matching filters won’t be a requirement.
"The text of the political agreement does not impose any upload filters nor does it require user-uploaded platforms to apply any specific technology to recognise illegal content," the site says. If companies like Facebook and Google can’t come to licensing agreements with content owners, they’ll need to "make their best efforts to ensure that content not authorised by the right holders is not available on their website."
What exactly does "best effort" mean? It appears to be up for interpretation.
Facebook and Google are not pleased with the proposed rules. For starters, each European Union member country will implement the rule in its own way, which could mean tech companies need to abide by a different set of guidelines in each country.
Then there is concern that while trying to comply, tech companies will take a heavy hand with moderating what is allowed and what isn’t. Google’s senior VP of global affairs Kent Walker wrote a blog post published last month titled "EU Copyright Directive: one step forward, two steps back."
"The directive creates vague, untested requirements, which are likely to result in online services over-blocking content to limit legal risk," Walker wrote.
A Facebook spokesperson declined to comment Monday on the laws but pointed Recode toward a statement made by the Computer & Communications Industry Association, a tech trade group of which Facebook is a member.
In a statement from one of the association’s policy managers, the CCIA echoed Walker’s concerns. "Despite recent improvements, the EU Directive falls short of creating a balanced and modern framework for copyright," the statement reads. "We fear it will harm online innovation and restrict online freedoms in Europe."
While Monday’s approval by the European Commission has brought the copyright rules back to the surface, they may not affect consumers for a while. Each EU member country has 24 months to create laws that enforce the rules.
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