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EU member states approve contested copyright overhaul

Brussels - EU member states on Monday approved a controversial copyright reform package, overhauling rules dating back to 2001 to ensure that artists and news publishers are fairly remunerated in the digital era.

Final Step

The measures, already approved by the European Parliament, won the support of 19 member states. The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Poland, Italy, Finland and Sweden were opposed, while Belgium, Slovenia, and Estonia abstained.

Monday's vote was the final step before enactment, expected to take two years.

The reform passed despite its many critics, who argue that it will damage the free exchange of information online. Internet giants such as Wikipedia, Google and YouTube have also been opposed.

Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated across Europe against the reform. Especially contested is the so-called article 13, which requires social media platforms to ensure at the time of uploading that content is not in breach of copyright rules.

Critics fear this will lead to "upload filters" - automated software that, they argue, could also catch and block legal content.

"Upload filters"

The German government has made clear that reform of EU copyright rules should be implemented as far as possible without the use of "upload filters."

"The aim must be to make 'upload filters' largely unnecessary," according to a statement by a German representative in the decisive vote by EU member states in Luxembourg on Monday.

The reform package also requires that platforms such as Google News pay publishers for press snippets shown in search results.

Some critics have warned that this provision will hurt small publishers' negotiating position vis-a-vis Google. They also point to 2013 German legislation that provided a similar mechanism but has failed to provide publishers significant income.

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Survey on upload filters

German perspective

Overall the reform is urgently needed, the German representative said on Monday. Berlin assumes that a uniform implementation has been agreed, because a fragmentary implementation "would be incompatible with the principles of a digital single market."

The representative said it was regrettable that it was not possible to find a concept that "convinces everyone on the whole," in reference to the fact that the reforms passed by a majority, and not unanimously.

The German statement, on which several ministries worked until Sunday evening, now states: "Upload platforms should continue to be available as free, uncensored channels of communication for civil society."

Should there be a restriction on freedom of expression in the implementation of the new rules, Germany will press for corrections to the directive.

In addition, Berlin has made clear that, in their view, the rules in question apply to powerful platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, while services like Wikipedia, blogs, forums or software platforms are not included.