This past Tuesday, the European Union voted to approve new copyright legislation by a vote of 348 to 274. The new laws allow for liability to be imposed against sites for content that their users upload that infringes upon another’s copyrights. The legislation also will require news aggregation services such as Google to pay for the articles they share.

The Copyright Directive makes a significant change to how sites that host user content are treated. Currently, sites are not liable as long as they take swift action against infringing material. This is the way that America treats such content and barring similar language, will continue to treat it this way.

Leading up to its passage, there was and continues to be fierce opposite to the legislation. For instance, Wikipedia blacked out their Czech, Danish, German, and Slovak versions of the site in protest. Much of it coming from America-based companies. The opponents cite to the use of filters that will need to be implemented in order to avoid liability. Ultimately, the concern is that the filters will cause unnecessary surveillance and censorship–especially when parody is at play. There is also the concern that the filters could prevent content from going viral, which is a more commonplace marketing strategy in recent years. Musicians are one group that will likely take a hit as filters will likely prevent them from uploading their own music.

Although the European Parliament voted in favor of the laws, the laws will not immediately go into effect. When fully adopted by the Member States, the Directive may not match exactly what the EU has passed. From this point, the Council of the European Union must formally endorse the Copyright Directive. Once endorsed, the Member States will be given up to 24 months to adopt rules through national legislation.

The Directive is part of the EU’s Digital Single Market strategy, which seeks to modernize the European Union’s laws as they relate to the ever developing realm of technology. Prior to this Tuesday’s vote, EU copyright law predated the social media boom and mass migration to online retailers.

Although the discussion of the Copyright Directive is focused on Internet giants like Facebook, the implications of the laws are much farther reaching. If you operate a site that allows users to upload or share content, there is the potential that liability might land at your doorstep for the conduct of your user base. One preliminary step to take is to make sure that you have a tailored terms of use for your site that addresses what content can be generated by users. It may also be time to start the search for a system to filter content much like what is used by YouTube when videos are uploaded.