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Copyright directive talks could resume after France and Germany compromise over reach of article thirteen

By | Published on Thursday 7 February 2019

European Commission

So, you know how article thirteen got stuck in some sticky jam last month, meaning that efforts to agree a final, final, final, final version of the bloody European Copyright Directive were on hold? Well, the French and German governments have now mopped up the jam and the music industry hopes that those all-important copyright conversations can resume.

A very quick recap! The European Union is reviewing its copyright laws, to make them fit for the digital age. The music industry wants the copyright safe harbour that protects internet companies from liability for their users’ copyright infringement to be reformed. It wants the liabilities of user-upload platforms like YouTube to increase. Article thirteen of the proposed directive tries to do that. YouTube is not happy. It says article thirteen will kill the internet. The music industry says YouTube is full of shit.

There are now three versions of the directive: the original written by the European Commission, another amended and passed by the European Parliament, and another still amended and passed by the European Council. Commission, Parliament and Council must agree a single final draft in what is known as the trilogue stage. YouTube hopes that while those final edits are being made, someone will slip and accidentally delete article thirteen.

Which brings us to last month when a trilogue stage meeting between the Commission, Parliament and Council was cancelled at the last minute because it turned out the Council itself couldn’t agree a final position. And it’s quite hard for the Council to agree a final position with the Commission and Parliament if it can’t agree a position with itself.

The European Council is made up of representatives of the national governments of each of the 28 countries within the EU. It turned out that a key sticking point was whether or not smaller or newer user-upload platforms should also be subject to all the new liabilities. The French government said “bien sûr que oui!”. But the Germans shouted back “Warum denkt denn niemand an den ‘kleinen Kerl’?”

However, it transpires that France and Germany haven now reached a compromise, in which the new liabilities will be restricted for user-upload services that have been live for less than three years, have an annual turnover under ten million euros and under five million unique uses each month. The reworked proposal is now set to be voted on by a meeting of the permanent EU representatives for each of the 28 member states tomorrow.

If the Council can then agree on their latest draft of the directive – article thirteen and all – trilogue talks should begin again next week. There’s a deadline for all this, remember, because there are European Parliament elections in May and the whole thing needs to have been agreed upon, voted on, passed and shouted to the skies in a final finished format before then.

So, tick tock, tick tock.