On Wednesday 20 June, the European Parliament moved one step closer to adopting a directive on the reform of EU copyright rules. The Commission proposal was seen by many as a key file in the completion of the so-called digital single market.

The Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) had twice postponed its vote due to the inclusion of a controversial provision in the Commission’s draft proposal. Article 13 of that draft proposal would require online platforms to install filters that would automatically screen uploaded content for copyrighted material. The provision intends to ensure that copyright holders are paid fairly for the use of their content online.

However, the proposal has caused controversy, with some MEPs and stakeholders claiming that the inclusion of the provision amounts to an attack on the freedom of expression by curtailing internet users’ ability to share content online. The proposal has also garnered widespread media attention, with some observing that internet memes would be affected as users would require permission before uploading photos owned by others.

The UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression raised concerns about “prepublication censorship”, with automatic filters being unable to detect fair comment, satire, criticism and parody.

However, rapporteur Axel Voss MEP denied that the proposals amount to a filtering of the internet and instead explained the logic behind the proposal, which was backed by a narrow majority of JURI MEPs: “These platforms make a considerable profit on the works uploaded by its users, so they can’t simply hide behind the argument that it is the users who are uploading, while the platform is making money from it.”

The Parliament as a whole will now vote on the EP’s final position on Thursday 5 July. Given that MEPs within parties and groups are split as to their approach to the proposal, the final outcome of that vote is very difficult to predict. Once the European Parliament has adopted a final position, focus will turn to the European Council, where member states are divided and are yet to agree on a single approach to copyright reform.