The famous Copyright Directive explained and how it can save photography and journalism

The European Union Parliament voted overwhelming in favor of the Copyright Directive on March 26th 2019 following a long debate. Two articles were under heavy scrutiny (Art. 11, now 15 and Art. 13, now 17), causing plenty of controversy due to "what if" scenarios propagated via various sources, even by the news sites which are soon to be protected by this directive.

EU Flag. Cute happy girl with the flag of the European Union. Young teenage girl waving with the European Union flag in the city

Read the official press release before anything else:

The initial project has been adjusted based on the various comments the EU received, a rare treat. The MEPs listened and unlike other times ("cookies", I'm looking at you), they made a lot of adjustments. This directive is not yet a law. It is supposed to be voted by the European Commission and then the member states will have two years to generated laws, guidelines and institutions that will regulate this, in a similar way to how the GDPR was enforced for your privacy. Dislike these rules? They protect you. Remember how the roaming fees were removed for UE citizens? We no longer pay 8 EUR/MB and no industry was killed. All these favor the EU citizen and allow European companies to compete (it might save journalism and photography along the way) and to play fair.

What this new directive aims for is to ensure that the copyright law is respected. Copyright is not a new law, but many companies have been exempted or tolerated so far for the sake of the freedom of communication. This law doesn't stop that. It just wants to give credit to the authors, be them simple people, photographers, videographers, bloggers or instagrammers WHEN their content is used commercially. You don't have to be Freddie Mercury to own the rights over your music. AND you don't have to be a professional photographer. You have rights as a EU citizen. If someone monetizes based on your content (video, music etc), the law should protect you in a similar way, just as it protects Queen when you use one of their songs in your music. Commercially, things may be different, but the law is the same for everyone.

There is a mass of new platforms that have spawned recently: Wikipedia, Google, Facebook are now classic models, more recently we have Instagram, Pinterest, Reddit, Github etc. Few are non-commercial, not for profit, most monetize content. None of them owns the content, it is generated by people like you and me. And this is called crowdsourcing, a term Dreamstime helped coin. These platforms generate huge revenues. Other industries die. Want your son to become a photographer or a journalist? This law might help, since these professions are currently dying. The print industry is dying because it moved to the Internet, where it doesn't monetize. How can it monetize, if their news, the product of their work is stolen or shared freely on other sites? And you don't have to be a newspaper. Wrote a recipe, photographed your dish? Sites or other people might steal your work and face little consequence.

The whole stock photography industry is estimated at $5bn and sells commercial images to everyone: publishing houses, newspapers, websites, big or small companies, ad agencies, webmasters, online platforms etc. Pinterest is soon to be listed for $20bn. Instagram was acquired for $1bn and its current revenue is $12bn per year. Facebook generates $16bn per quarter. Google's Youtube is estimated significantly above $10bn yearly. They serve images and videos to you. They monetize through ads. Then we have the whole news industry, where various types of text content are embedded in Google's Web Search. Google monetizes this via Ads placed on same page or on other sites (your content is there too), generating close to $30bn quarterly. Google Images indexes your site's visual content and makes the images available at high res. Did you pay for those images? Other people may download them for free. A public survey in 2015 noted 85% of the images used on the Internet to be illegal copies. Your images included.

All new crowd-sourcing models summed up generate trillions each year. The vast majority of these revenues are not bringing anything to the creators, be them photographers, journalists or simple users. Youtube is an exception, sharing a part of their revenue with users, a tiny drop in an ocean, especially since doesn't apply to all Youtube contributors. Some people monetize by other means, usually with a negative impact over their bias (think Instagrammers who will recommend you a product just because they were paid).

The directive doesn't forbid platforms to use content. It merely asks them to seek consent or face consequences IF the author decides to sue them for infringing his copyright. It even makes exceptions: small startups will probably see more relaxed requirements. Wikipedia is exempted (albeit receiving a significant donation recently from Google, that uses its content).

A similar law regulates in US, the Digital Milenium Copyright Act, issued in 1998. It allows companies to remove copyrighted content uploaded by someone else or face consequences. This is already 21 years old and Europe, which was always protective of its intellectual property rights, needed something similar to ensure its users and companies act according to the 21st century.

Will this law destroy the Internet? Certainly not.

It will not remove links, it doesn't ban you from using memes or even sharing other people's photos if it's under fair use. But what if someone else's uses your content or even steals it and uploads elsewhere (we stop maybe hundreds of such attempts daily)? It asks platforms to seek consent and to ensure they have a filtering system in place. Youtube already has a performant Content ID filter, which will probably upgrade. Dreamstime has always had one. What if we decide to give away people's photos without their consent and monetize by placing ads next to them? Would that be OK? That's what this law is about, asking all platforms to give credit where credit is due, to the USER. It certainly doesn't benefit a trade association or corporation, it benefits the Internet.

Photo credits: Marian Vejcik.

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April 02, 2019


Thank you for the clarification

April 01, 2019


AguPkorPhotos, good point. At first glance there is no direct impact for non-EU creators, however plenty of positive side effect, since it will be difficult for online platforms to set borders between creators and users (who might be from Europe).

March 30, 2019


A beautiful piece of legislation...How will it impact creatives ( "musicians, performers and script authors,) living outside of the EU....? Thanks for sharing an important internet milestone.

March 29, 2019


succinctly and clearly! thank you!

March 28, 2019


Very informative. Thank you.

March 28, 2019


Thank you, useful informations!

March 28, 2019


Thank you, so clearly explained!

March 28, 2019


Thank you for the great article!

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