The European Parliament voted Thursday to reject a sweeping reform of copyright rules for the internet age, reopening debate on a controversial bill that sets Big Tech against publishers and media companies.
The rejected bill, which aimed to beef up enforcement of copyright rules online, will now be sent back to Parliament for further discussion, and all 751 European lawmakers will be able to submit fresh amendments to the text.
After nearly two years of debate, the rare move to reject a bill already approved by a Parliament committee — usually enough to send the bill on — shows just how much is at stake.
If passed in their current form, the new rules would have forced companies like Google and Facebook to monitor their platforms much more closely for copyright infringements, and handed more power to license holders ranging from publishers to media companies and record labels.
The rejection marks a defeat for the latter group, which had hoped that tougher copyright rules would strengthen their hand in negotiations with the platforms, wring more revenue from online content and empower creatives online.
Both sides waged fierce lobbying campaigns in the days ahead of the vote.
Former Beatle Paul McCartney weighed in this week with an impassioned letter defending the reform, while the other side roped in British comedian Stephen Fry as well as hiring vehicles to drive around Brussels warning about dire consequences for internet freedom if the reform passed in its current form.
The anti-copyright campaign argued that tougher enforcement of copyright rules would “kill” the internet as we know it, notably by banning “memes” — an allegation forcefully rejected by the other side, which pointed out that parody content is protected by pre-existing laws.
In the end, the advantage tipped in the anti-copyright camps favor. Invoking a special Parliament procedure, opponents such as German Green MEP Julia Reda gathered 76 allies to call a vote on whether to approve the mandate of Parliaments Legal Affairs Committee, which had earlier approved the bill.
The procedure, known as 69c, rarely succeeds, as it requires a simple majority in Parliament to overturn the mandate. In this case, after feverish lobbying and some last-minute about-faces — notably among German conservatives — the attempt succeeded, sending the bill back to the drawing board.
The vote was close, with 278 in favor, 318 against and 31 abstentions.
The anti-copyright camp won this round, but the war is not over. Lobbying is set to intensify once again, as debates resume on one of Europes most intensely watched legislative files.