Forget generation gap issues in our ‘Copy & Paste’ habits. Unless you don’t use a computer, copying and pasting is part of our keyboarding lives – especially when it comes to downloading images/video clips to finish off a presentation, blog/vlog post or website update. Precious time is spent scrolling down myriad visuals until ‘the one’ appears. With a Cheshire smile and a gleeful blurting of ‘YES!’ we click away without batting an eyelid.

The good news is that our search is over. The bad news is that the days of worry-free Ctrl +C, Ctrl +V are over too.

Following the EU Copyright Directive Amendments (Articles 11-13) enacted on September 12, 2018, we need to ask for and obtain the author or copyright holder’s permission to use any content on the internet … and spell out accreditation when go-ahead is granted. The exception being material that is not copyrighted.

As inconvenient as it may be, this directive is long overdue. Isn’t plagiarism a crime? Which is why academic and artistic honesty must be taken seriously. Don’t singers/musicians keep on receiving royalties for filling airtime? Which is why they keep on making money after passing away, even though royalties do not equate copyright. So why should digital creators, artists, broadcasters and journalists be discriminated against just because location shifts to the World Wide Web? Why shouldn’t their work on the Web be regarded as intellectual property and be compensated?

These are the arguments which enabled the Society of Authors, the Alliance for Intellectual Property and Proponents, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group to finally win over a healthy majority of MEPs who up to last July had favoured the Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) comprising the internet juggernauts of Google, Amazon, Facebook, eBay and Netflix. The latter had persuasively argued that such a law would suppress internet freedom and stifle creativity.

Spurred on by the Cόrdoba Copyright Case (C-161/17) which had photographer Dirk Renckhoff successfully sue the German town of Waltrop for making use of his shot of the Andalusian city without his consent, victory for WWW content creators is in the air. They have yet to lift the trophy because amendments to the Directive are still pending approval by the European Council and the European Commission. Upcoming December is the deadline for any tweaks to what is being proposed and sometime in January voting re the final wording of the amendments will take place. If the Directive goes through, member states will have two years to get their own legislation up-to-date. Only then can WWW content creators claim victory in the EU.

What do the amendments target?

  • Platforms need to pay for linking to news and remuneration must be both adequate and proportional.
  • Anyone watching a sports event can no longer publish, share, reproduce, or record images and videos of the said events, though this restriction appears to be open to interpretation.
  • Platforms need to ensure that whatever is shared cannot be copyrighted, entailing either a filtering process or, financial compensation to avoid copyright infringement.
  • Ordinary web users will not have to pay for content downloads for private and non-commercial use.

What are the implications?

  • For web users, asking permission to use any copyrighted content is mandatory, unless the use is non-commercial. Sports fans will probably have to kiss goodbye to their vlogs, clips and commentaries on the internet.
  • For companies in Europe, particularly tech startups, losing momentum is the main concern since they will need more time to ensure that their content does not break any copyright laws. An exodus from Europe is very likely which is bound to be the most immediate, visible consequence of the new copyright laws.
  • A rise in copyright infringement lawsuits is to be expected, unless we are doubly careful in our working lives.
  • Just as freedom of expression does not mean we can say whatever we like, freedom of internet use cannot exploit anyone’s work available on the internet, even if the owner has already allowed the work to be published without restriction on another website. Having said that, internet freedom will not be jeopardized if platforms pay for copyrighted content. This is the best way forward since it is the most practical and doable.

Although a closer look at the current amendments reveals some ambiguous phrasing that needs to be clarified, there is no doubt that the EU Copyright Directive Amendments are aimed at harmonizing the perception of all intellectual property in the digital age and paying for its digital use in all member states. Maltese copyright laws are already in line with EU directives making us obliged to follow the rules even if they get stricter.

Cutting through the legal jargon we must all remember that life is not a free ride.