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Identifying the risks amidst the new EU copyright directive

David Ingham, Digital Partner – Media & Entertainment, Cognizant, discusses how the new EU copyright directive could pose problems for online business

Change is afoot across the internet’s copyright landscape. The European Parliament recently passed the controversial Articles 15 and 17 (previously articles 11 and 13), as part of the wider Directive on Copyright, raising concerns across content platforms and tech giants. The directive strives to ensure that the established requirements of universal copyright laws equally apply to the frequently unregulated internet. Whilst these changes now have two years to take effect in EU member states; here we will look at the impact of the most contentious articles in the directive.

What is Article 17?

Article 17 will leave online platforms open to sanctions if they fail to prevent upload to their sites that breach copyright laws. Previously, if a copyright owner found unapproved content online, the platform had to take it down with no damage liability. Article 17 means that they are now liable.

The introduction of this directive initially raised concerns that the internet’s beloved memes were at risk – with a question mark over whether these content types should be preserved as parodies, or whether they would fall victim to the new regulations. Recently, the European Parliament announced that GIFs and memes could continue to be distributed across online platforms; however, there are on-going concerns that these new laws could quash the internet’s free-flow of information not to mention potential issues around freedom of speech and expression. If copyright owners (a.k.a. creators) want their content to be shared and monetised on online media platforms, they will have to make sure that the copyright information is well known and easy to verify by mainstream platforms.

How does Article 15 differ?

Article 15 has the potential to change the entire news landscape. Previously article 11, and often referred to as the ‘link tax’, it will require news aggregators such as Google, or platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook, to pay publishers a fee for distributing news links. Such change prompts the concern that fewer articles would be distributed on these platforms and again, that the free flow of information shared across the internet will be harmed as a result.

For news organisations, the danger is that they would not be able to use these well-known aggregators for distribution, meaning they would need to rely exclusively on their apps and websites, as well as SEO, for ensuring that their content is discovered.

But are content platforms and companies born out of the internet age equipped to adapt to these changes? For many, the answer is surely no. There is no way that manual, human review processes can handle the copious amount of scrutiny required; automated filters will become a necessity for media platforms to identify copyrighted material and avoid infractions. Moreover, some platforms may be forced to alter their approach to uploading content entirely, perhaps replacing the current practice of real-time uploads with delayed processing for verification.

The evolving nature of ‘adapt or die’

Over the next two years, organisations must determine and implement their strategy to address these changes. While many may feel that this is plenty of time to plan their approach, it will come around sooner than you think. The firms impacted should start taking steps to make changes now, as inaction is not an option. However, very few understand all the implications in a way that allows them to assess risks and viable options, make decisions on next steps and then implement those changes.

These firms could, however, break their approach down into three key areas. The first is technology – what internal and client-facing platforms and products will be impacted by these changes? The second is operations – what impact will the new directive have on day-to-day business operations? And finally, legal – what is the potential liability/risk that will be introduced to the organisation once the directive comes into force?

What is clear is that the technology industry – whether household name giants or smaller players – will soon have to put adequate measures in place to adhere to the evolving copyright landscape.