October 31, 2020

UK Says It Won’t Implement The EU Copyright Directive, Which Wouldn’t Have Passed Without Its Support During A Crucial Vote

As Techdirt has reported, the EU member states are starting to transpose the EU Copyright Directive into their national laws, and the results are as bad as we feared. France wants to implement the Article 17 upload filters without user protections, while Germany plans to place ludicrous restrictions on the use of press materials as part of its implementation of Article 15. What’s particularly frustrating about the whole sorry EU Copyright Directive saga is that the law was very close to being thrown out last April. That was when the final vote by the EU Council (made up of representatives of the EU member states) took place. As Mike wrote at the time, because Sweden changed its original position, and voted against the Directive, it would only have required either Germany or the UK to do the same, and the legislation would have been dropped.

An interesting wrinkle to the story is that Boris Johnson, then still jockeying for leadership of the UK Conservative party, tweeted that the EU Copyright Directive would be “terrible for the Internet”, and that the UK “should not apply it.” That was easy to say when he had neither power nor responsibility. But now that Johnson has become UK prime minister, and enjoys a massive majority in the House of Commons, which effectively means he can do whatever he wants, will he take the same position? Rather amazingly, it seems he will.

A written question was submitted to the UK government: “To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what plans the Government has to bring forward legislative proposals to implement the EU Copyright Directive in UK law.” To which the UK government replied:

The deadline for implementing the EU Copyright Directive is 7 June 2021. The United Kingdom will leave the European Union on 31 January 2020 and the Implementation Period will end on 31 December 2020. The Government has committed not to extend the Implementation Period. Therefore, the United Kingdom will not be required to implement the Directive, and the Government has no plans to do so. Any future changes to the UK copyright framework will be considered as part of the usual domestic policy process.

That is, after providing one of the crucial votes of support that ensured the EU Copyright Directive would become law, the UK is not now going to implement it. A cynic might think that the UK has done this to gain an advantage over the rest of the EU as member states grapple with the serious harm the Copyright Directive will inflict on the region’s Internet users and startups. In truth, it is probably more a reflection of the fact that the UK government will be so busy passing legislation to cope with the aftershocks of Brexit, it won’t have time to deal with minor issues like copyright.

And for those who will be celebrating this news as a great win, it’s worth noting the careful phrasing of the reply: “Any future changes to the UK copyright framework will be considered as part of the usual domestic policy process”. Although the UK government won’t implement an EU law — not least for dogmatic reasons — it hasn’t ruled out bringing in its own 100% true-Brit law that does much the same. It’s unlikely that the well-connected UK copyright industry is going sit quietly and watch EU rivals gain special privileges online without demanding the same. Expect lots of whining and cries of pain from the recording industry and publishers until the UK government eventually gets around to passing national legislation that is as bad — or even worse — than the EU’s.

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