Alphabet, Google, Facebook and freedom of speech activists suffered a blow after the European Parliament rubber-stamped new rules that could curb access to online media in Europe.

Once in effect, the rules will likely set off publishers, music and movie producers chasing online platforms for money in exchange for displaying their content. But web activists fear the rules will lead to censorship as platforms will likely block user uploads of content they don't have licences for, and could restrict press information that turns up in search results.

Under the law's so-called article 13, tech platforms will have to negotiate licenses for songs or video clips before publishing user uploads of content that incorporates them. They'll also have to make "best efforts" to obtain authorisation in situations where no licenses are concluded. Unauthorized content will have to be removed or blocked.

"This is an unprecedented victory for European creators, who will now be able to exercise their rights and receive fair remuneration from platforms such as YouTube," said Anders Lassen, President of GESAC, a European umbrella association of authors and composers.


The law also grants publishers new legal rights to help them seek compensation from all types of online services that display longer fragments of their articles. The provision excludes very short snippets and individual words.

The agreed copyright rules improved on earlier drafts but will "still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe's creative and digital economies," a Google spokesman said. "The details matter, and we look forward to working with policymakers, publishers, creators and rights holders as EU member states move to implement these new rules."

Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Siada El Ramly, director general of Edima, an association representing web platforms including Google and Facebook, said the legislation "tries to force a licensing business model on open platforms, and weakens the fundamental privacy and freedom of speech rights of EU citizens."

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager talks to the media. Photo/Getty Images.
European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager talks to the media. Photo/Getty Images.

The European Parliament on Tuesday passed the legislation with 348 lawmakers in favour, 274 against and 36 abstaining. The legislation still needs to be rubber-stamped by the bloc's member states before it enters into force.

The outcome of the vote is a major defeat for freedom of speech activists, including German MEP Julia Reda who called it a "dark day for internet freedom." Around 200,000 people across 45 cities in Germany had taken to the streets over the weekend in a last-ditch effort to protest the controversial provisions of the new rules, and more than 5 million people have signed a petition against Article 13.

The copyright legislation has faced heated lobbying from all sides, including from publishers and music producers who say it's needed to get fair compensation for online use of their work. But some in the creative industries have expressed concerns that, under the new rules, platforms could still try to exploit loopholes to get around paying for content.

Technical experts from the European Union's three lawmaking institutions - the European Commission, the European Parliament and the bloc's member states - agreed to the new draft rules in February after it was first proposed two and a half years ago.

- Bloomberg