Big tech accountability? Read how we got here in  The Closing of the Net 

EU Copyright directive draft 2016

In what can only be called a policy bombshell, proposed new EU copyright rules will force social media sites to police content. A leaked version of a proposed new copyright directive seeks to impose draconian monitoring obligations any sites that support content uploaded by  users. If the leaked draft to be believed, content platforms will have to install content scanning systems to monitor and remove copyrighted material. In addition, they will have to  report back to rightsholders.

The leaked draft has been circulating online today. The draft also containts further measures are being designed to remove payment facilities from any sites that host free or user uploaded content. Such measures could hit social media and content platforms as well as bit torrent and streaming media sites. Additionally, newspaper publishers will be legally allowed to claim licence fees for links to newsarticles, with a 20-year copyright protection period. This is the so-called 'Google tax' that the large news organisations have been lobbying for.

With the exception of the so-called 'follow the money' approach, the European Commission has kept these proposals very quiet. A previous leak of the accompanying Communication, gave no hint of the social media policing bombshell. This suggests the possibility of internal rifts in the Commission, possibly right at the very top. It is deja vue of the 2009 Telecoms Package (see the full story in my book  The Copyright Enforcement Enigma ).

The bombshell proposal is in Article 13 of the leaked draft directive. It calls for social media platforms to work 'in co-operation' with rightsholders. In particular, it calls for them to prevent the availability of copyrighted content on their sites. This means they will be expected to monitor content on a permanent basis, and to continuously implement take-downs.

Information society services that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject matter uploaded by their users shall, in co-operation with rightsholders, take appropriate and proportionate measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightsholders and to prevent the availabiity on their services of works or other subject matter not covered by such agreements, including through the use of effective content identification technologies.

The use of the word 'co-operation' is significant. This signals that the social media platforms are to work in conjunction with rights holders, and to form their own agreements with them. They are to be supervised by Member State governments, who are also to put in place procedures for users complaints and redress. Such agreements are highly problematic, and historially, they do not work – noting the French failed Hadopi law and the UK's disastrous Digital Economy Act that never even got off the ground. (See A Copyright Masquerade: How Corporate Lobbying Threatens Online Freedoms )

The draft's targeting of sites infringing on a commercial scale is also problematic, since the definition of commercial scale – or lack of it – was one reason why the European Parliament rejected ACTA in 2012.

From a policy perspective, these proposals cannot comply with existing EU law, nor would they be compatible with freedom of expression rights.

The other proposals are similarly problematic. The Google tax has been proven to be of little benefit, and follow the money can be error prone, targeting innocent people.

However, the draft directive  will have to go through the scrutiny of  the European Parliament, which  does not have to accept it. There is now a history of the Parliament rejecting online copyright proposals, in the 2009 Telecoms Package and in the ACTA of 2012. Likewise, the Parliament fought back and won on net neutrality only last year. It remains to be seen what will happen to this  latest attempt by the Commission to impose Internet restrictions for the benefit of copyright holders.



For more on copyright policy see my new book The Closing of the Net  which discusses copyright policy, including the 2009 Telecoms Package and court blocking orders.

I will speaking on intermediary liability policy in Brussels next Tuesday at this event hosted by CDTIntermediary Liability & Content Responsibility: A Cloud of Uncertainty for Internet Intermediaries

For more information and comment, see Jennifer Baker 20-year ancillary copyright term, new YouTube rule mulled in draft EU law in Ars Technica 

This is an original article from and reflects research that I have carried out. If you refer to it, please cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to Media and Academics – please cite as Monica Horten, 2016, EU copyright bombshell: social media sites to police content,  in, 1 September  2016. Commercial users - please contact me.


If you like this article, you might also like my latest book The Closing of the Net which discusses corporate influences over EU policy. It has three chapters on copyright including coverage of web blocking litigation, and the intriguing case of Megaupload.


Iptegrity in brief is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I’ve been analysing analysing digital policy since 2008. Way back then, I identified how issues around rights can influence Internet policy, and that has been a thread throughout all of my research. I hold a PhD in EU Communications Policy from the University of Westminster (2010), and a Post-graduate diploma in marketing.   I’ve served as an independent expert on the Council of Europe  Committee on Internet Freedoms, and was involved in a capacity building project in Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. I am currently (from June 2022)  Policy Manager - Freedom of Expression, with the Open Rights Group. For more, see About Iptegrity is made available free of charge for  non-commercial use, Please link-back & attribute Monica Horten. Thank you for respecting this.

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Copyright Enforcement Enigma launch, March 2012

In 2012, I presented my PhD research in the European Parliament.

The politics of copyright

A Copyright Masquerade - How corporate lobbying threatens online freedoms

'timely and provocative' Entertainment Law Review


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