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EU Votes To Rewrite Its Copyright Laws, Delivering A Blow To Tech Giants


While U.S. lawmakers have held hearings about big tech and talked about regulating it, it's the political leaders over in Europe who are really lighting the fire under Google and Facebook. The EU delivered a huge blow to Silicon Valley this week with a new copyright directive. Here to discuss that directive is NPR's Aarti Shahani. Hey, Aarti.


CHANG: So can you just explain? What did the European Parliament do?

SHAHANI: Sure. Simply put, a platform like YouTube is responsible when a video that's uploaded by a user violates copyright. So let me explain why this is game changing, OK? Copyright, meaning legal ownership over, say, a song or movie - right now under U.S. law, Internet companies aren't responsible for making sure the video posted on their platform is being shared legally.

CHANG: Right.

SHAHANI: They just have to take down pirated content - right? - once a user tells them about it. And that might be part of why, you know, every once in a while you can find that bootleg copy of "Black Panther" or "A Star Is Born" - (laughter) just saying. The European directive puts a whole new level of pressure on the platform to kill the bootlegs. The directive says, hey, tech company, you're responsible the moment that video is uploaded, not just when someone blows the whistle. So you better be proactive and find violations.

CHANG: So it sounds like a really dramatic shift in who's responsible. What's the reaction from Silicon Valley?

SHAHANI: You know, there's actually a healthy dose of humility here. I was in conversation with a senior employee at Google who said the company really messed up. When the EU began introducing this legislation a couple years back, Google could have said, hey, let's work on this together, OK? We're coming up with solutions for the exact same problems you're talking about.

But instead the executives went in with the don't-tell-us-what-to-do approach, and they overplayed their hand. And this has happened before in the EU with the massive privacy law and billion-dollar fines. It's clear Europe is giving big tech a smackdown. And Google, whose motto used to be, don't be evil, might consider a new motto - play nice.

CHANG: So what do these new rules mean for, say, artists, for creators? How helpful is all of this to them?

SHAHANI: Well, there could be a fascinating rift here. Last summer, Sir Paul McCartney from the Beatles - OK? - he wrote an open letter to the European Parliament. He said, music and culture matter. They don't just happen. The companies exploit artists' work. And he wanted the law overhauled. But he's a big-time artist with lawyers who can produce copyright documents - right? - and negotiate agreements with Google.

CHANG: Yeah.

SHAHANI: Say you're a little artist who's getting your start. You don't have a legal team. Google and the other platforms could decide it's too much trouble to deal with indies. How do we really know you own the song you're sharing? And they could decide to just not bother publishing you.

CHANG: OK, so if you're not Sir Paul McCartney but, say, you want to post yourself singing "Yesterday" on karaoke while you were at karaoke - I would never pose myself singing, but if you did, how would these new EU rules play into that?

SHAHANI: So the EU did not kill karaoke, OK? There is an allowance for sampling content, for doing parody and memes and also for education purposes like online classes. I think really the Europeans are setting the tone. We've already seen American lawmakers take cues from Europe when it comes to protecting user privacy. We might see the same for creative content on the Internet, too.

CHANG: That's NPR's Aarti Shahani. Thanks, Aarti.

SHAHANI: Thank you Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.