The European Parliament has agreed sweeping reforms to copyright law, confirming a deal in principle on the European Copyright Directive. The agreement is yet to be signed off but appears to offer a compromise to news aggregators who had feared they may have been penalised for displaying short snippets of news items from third parties. 

However, one critic said the proposed changes could leave some commercial websites facing an ‘impossible feat’ to obtain licences.

In a notice yesterday, the European Parliament said trilogue discussions between the EU council, commission and parliament, had resulted in a deal. The reforms have been more than two years in the making.

The full text has not been published and still awaits final review from council representatives and the parliament’s plenary session.

The most controversial aspects of the proposals were in articles 11, drafted to deal with the reproduction of news ‘snippets’ and article 13, which covered third party use of protected content on sharing websites.

Article 11 will now ensure that aggregators such as Google News can freely share ‘snippets’ of news articles, provided they do not ’abuse’ this right. The original proposals suggested they have to obtain a licence first.

‘The “snippet” can continue to appear in Google News newsfeeds or when an article is shared on Facebook, provided it is “very short”’, a European Parliament statement on the reforms said.

Kathy Berry, professional support lawyer at magic circle firm Linklaters, said the amendment to article 11 may mean that news aggregators will not be required to change their business model and therefore the article 'no longer has any real teeth’. ’If article 11 does not require news aggregators to compensate press publishers, it is not clear what it will, or is intended to, achieve in practice,’ she added.

In a statement on her website, MEP Julia Reda said article 13 stipulates that commercial sites and apps where users can ’post material’ must first obtain authorisation. But Reda, a member of the Pirate Party, which is against over-regulation of the internet, said this would mean having to ’pre-emptively buy licences for anything that users may possibly upload – that is: all copyrighted content in the world’. She described this an ‘impossible feat.’

Francine Cunningham, senior public affairs manager at international firm Bird & Bird, said it would likely end up being the courts who decide whether platforms have made ‘best efforts’ to avoid copyright infringement and what ‘very short extracts’ are excluded from the new press publishers’ right under article 11.

Uploading protected works for purposes of quotation, criticism, caricature or parody has also been protected, according to the agreement.