The impact of the new EU Copyright Directive on research


The Copyright Directive passed by the EU Parliament in March 2019 was shrouded in controversy and was cause for much dispute. In an opinion piece, FNR Secretary General Marc Schiltz explains what impact the new directive has on research.

In late March 2019, the European Parliament passed the disputed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. It sounds rather technical and juristic, but rarely has there been as much controversy about an EU Directive. Luxembourg, as well as some other countries, had voted against it in the cabinet.

Opponents of this directive have particularly criticised that the Directive would mean the Internet – a free space – would be censored, because content has to be filtered before it can be put on platforms such as Youtube and Facebook.

In future, when users upload add videos, text or images to such platforms, it will likely get scanned and can automatically be blocked, even though the technology for such filters is not at all viable yet. Controversial is also the rule that license fees can be demanded for linking to articles with short summaries.

If, for example, links are shared on social media or blogs, the title and a short preview of the text is usually displayed. This will now get much harder.

Such restrictions have already been trialled in Germany and Spain – it was a disaster. Logically, it is now being rolled out EU-wide.

Thankfully, after long and hard work convincing, we have succeeded in ensuring that special rules apply to science and research. These special rules most notably apply to research with ‘Text and Data Mining’, a technology foundational for developments in the area of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and can for example help with the development of new medications and therapies.

The Directive leaves it up to the individual member states whether they want to enable businesses – such as innovative start-ups – to have access to text and data mining technologies. This represents an interesting opportunity for Luxembourg and its digital strategy.

All in all, this Directive is a fair to middling text, which will continue to cause discussions. The attempt was to take a concept from the 19th century – Authors’ rights– and bring it to the digital age, with mediocre success.

Emblematic for this was the vote in the EU Parliament. The controversial articles in the Directive could have been removed, but this was prevented with a close majority of 5 votes. It turns out that 13 MEPs mistakenly pressed the wrong button when voting. So much for digital competence!

This opinion piece was originally published as a ‘Carte Blanche’ on in April 2019 (in Luxembourgish)

Marc Schiltz

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