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Article thirteen talks postponed because of disagreements in EU Council

By | Published on Monday 21 January 2019

European Commission

A meeting planned for later today where European Union officials and law-makers would have had a good go at agreeing a final draft of the bloody European Copyright Directive was called off at the last minute on Friday, after the EU Council couldn’t agree on the most recent efforts at a compromise. The music industry’s bid to reform the copyright safe harbour, aka article thirteen, remains a key sticking point.

As of the end of last year there were three versions of the directive, the original one drafted by the European Commission in 2016, and the significantly amended versions passed respectively by the European Parliament and the EU Council last year. The three institutions now need to agree on a final single version in what is called the trilogue phase.

Google, of course, has gone into lobbying overdrive in this final stage, Google Search not liking article eleven and YouTube hating article thirteen. Lobbyists for the newspaper and music industries are respectively defending those two most controversial elements of the copyright reforms in an ongoing battle with Google and its big tech allies.

The music industry is backed by other content-owning sectors in seeking safe harbour reform. Though some trade bodies representing TV, movie and sporting interests have started to say that – given recent proposed amendments to article thirteen – they’d rather it be removed entirely, reckoning that a late-in-the-day compromise might put them in a worse position than they currently are. Meanwhile the music business continues to fight for a version of article thirteen more in line with what Parliament and Council passed last year.

So, even in this final stage, there’s lots of wrangling going on. The EU Council is made up of representatives of each member state government. Romania took over the presidency of the Council at the start of the month, so is now tasked with getting consensus within that committee, so that negotiations with the Commission and Parliament can continue.

It was a proposed rework of article thirteen by Romania that the music industry was hitting out at just last week. Meanwhile, within the Council, there are also plenty of critics of the most recent proposed compromises. The governments of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Slovenia, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Croatia, Luxembourg and Portugal are all against the current proposals, meaning Council is not yet in agreement with itself.

The member states will regroup later this week to continue discussions. If they can agree a redraft of the redraft of the redraft, the trilogue talks – bringing the Council together with reps of Commission and Parliament – could then continue next week.

Aside from all these delays and ongoing deliberations driving everyone insane, there is a fixed deadline for all this, in that the directive needs to be passed by the European Parliament before its winds down for the European elections in May. The final final final draft will have to go before a full session of the Parliament, and the last opportunity for doing that will be in April. So there is still time, but the clock is very much ticking.

If the directive isn’t actually passed until April – and if the UK Brexits as currently planned on 29 Mar – that could have an impact on whether a post-Brexit British government implements these copyright reforms. Ministers have previously indicated that they do plan to implement the directive, even though the deadline for complying will be after Brexit. But if the directive itself isn’t passed before the UK exits the EU, that position could change.

So, plenty of fun times ahead.