EU politicians have voted against a much-disputed internet copyright law that opponents had claimed would "break the internet as we know it".
318 MEPs voted against the proposed overhaul of the EU copyright directive, against 278 who voted in favour of it, in a close vote after an acrimonious row over the proposals.
Article 13 of the proposed overhaul called on "internet society service providers", such as Reddit, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube, to use image and content recognition tools to "prevent the availability" of copyrighted material online.
This would force individual websites to filter photos and videos uploaded by users to make sure that it doesn't break copyright laws, and mean websites such as YouTube would have to pay extra for hosting music videos.
Digital rights groups claimed that the Copyright Directive, which was proposed to protect rights-holders from copyright infringement on the web, would "outlaw memes on the internet".
Campaigners at Copyright 4 Creativity said the proposals risk censoring free speech because it is likely that technology giants, afraid of hefty fines, will automatically remove content they deem a risk, ridding social media of satire, commentary and inevitably would “destroy the internet as we know it”.
Wikipedia shut down pages across Europe in protest at the vote. Non-profit Wikipedia owner the Wikimedia Foundation claimed that the proposed copyright package is a "threat to our fundamental right to freely share information".
Wikimedia Foundation general counsel Eileen Hershenov said: "We are concerned because these flawed proposals hurt everyone's rights to freedom of expression and Europe's ability to improve the welfare of its citizens online."
Responding to the vote, Jim Killock of the Open Rights Group said: “Round one of the Robo-Copyright wars is over. The EU Parliament has recognised that machine censorship of copyright material is not an easy and simple fix. They’ve heard the massive opposition, including internet blackouts and 750,000 people petitioning them against these proposals."
#Article13 threatens EU creators, leaving us vulnerable to censorship in copyright's name. Don't believe the creepy pretence that it's there to protect © holders. It's about putting power in the hands of media corporations. We can stop it! Contact your MEP https://t.co/xwFpzW6sIY
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) June 28, 2018
In a letter to the President of the European Parliament earlier this month, influential internet pioneers spoke out against the new rules, including Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf co-signed with internet freedom advocates including Wikipedia's Jimmy Wales, Mozilla's Mitchell Baker and campaigning groups such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
"By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users," the signatories said.
On the other side, Sir Paul McCartney accused tech giants of exploiting musicians for their own profit as the former Beatle pressed MEPs to vote through a controversial EU copyright law.
In an open letter to the European Parliament, Sir Paul said: “We need an internet that is fair and sustainable for all. But today some user upload content platforms refuse to compensate artists and all music creators fairly for their work, while they exploit it for their own profit.”
Mark Owen, head of IP and media at law firm Taylor Wessing, said: "Today's vote is being described in emotive terms, one side's 'value gap' is seen by others as a tax or a 'censorship engine'. Will it break the internet if passed? Probably not, but it may miss its main targets, which are large tech platforms, and make life more difficult instead for smaller and newer tech entrants - in other words the sort of companies the Digital Single Market is intended to help."
In the US, the debate over internet freedom continue after regulators voted last year to slash Obama-era rules which stopped broadband providers from blocking some websites or charging others more for speeding up service, in a highly contentious move which is likely to spark legal challenges.
Earlier this year, Washington State became the first state to retaliate against the government by re-instating net neutrality laws, signing a new law to stop internet providers from blocking websites or charging more for delivery of certain services.