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Oscar Williams

News editor

“Dreadful” European copyright rules are one step closer to becoming law

New European copyright rules that critics warn could “turn the internet into a tool for the automated surveillance of its users” are a step closer to becoming reality.

A committee of MEPs has approved an article of the draft legislation that calls on sites to automatically detect and remove copyrighted material posted by users.

Campaigners and tech leaders have warned that the measure could threaten free speech and would effectively ban user generated content such as memes and remixes.

“Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” a letter signed by Tim Berners-Lee, Vint Cerf and dozens more tech leaders warns.

Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group, described Article 13 as a “dreadful law” and called on MEPs to vote to remove it when the legislation next comes before the European Parliament.

“The EU Parliament’s duty is to defend citizens from unfair and unjust laws,” he said. “MEPs must reject this law, which would create a Robo-copyright regime intended to zap any image, text, meme or video that appears to include copyright material, even when it is entirely legal material.”

In addition to free speech concerns, it’s feared that the article could reinforce Google and Facebook’s position as market leaders, because while they have the resources needed to ensure compliance, smaller challengers may not.

The legislation also proposes sweeping changes to the way news stories are shared online. Article 11, which was approved by the committee earlier this week, calls on sites such as Google and Facebook to remunerate publishers whose stories they link to and share snippets of.

This isn’t the first time European politicians have tried to force the tech giants to reimburse news organisations. In 2014, Spanish politicians passed a copyright law, dubbed “Google tax”, that forced the US firm to pay publishers if it shared snippets of their stories. It responded by pulling Google News from the jurisdiction. Traffic plummeted and smaller publishers were hit hardest.

Earlier in the same year, German publishers joined forces to prevent Google from quoting their stories without paying a licencing fee. Google refused, traffic flatlined and the publishers U-turned.