MEPs have voted to reject a controversial copyright law in its current form, deciding to return to the issue in September.
The law would have put a greater responsibility on individual websites to check for copyright infringements.
But the web’s inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee and others had expressed concerns about the proposed rules, which they said threatened internet freedom.
Opponents greeted the decision as a victory.
Julia Reda, a Pirate Party MEP who had campaigned against the legislation tweeted: “Great success: Your protests have worked! The European Parliament has sent the copyright law back to the drawing board.”
BPI Music, which represents UK record labels, had supported the bill and tweeted: “We respect the decision… we will work with MEPs over the next weeks to explain how the proposed directive will benefit not just European creativity, but also internet users and the technology sector.”
Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales told the BBC he hoped that the music industry could find a way to compromise before the September debate.
“Don’t think about filtering everything everyone uploads to the internet. That’s a pipe dream but you are never going to get that,” he said.
Instead, he added, they should look to renegotiating deals with platforms such as YouTube to get “fairer remuneration”.
By Mark Savage, Music reporter
The combined clout of Paul McCartney, Annie Lennox Placido Domingo and David Guetta wasn’t enough to persuade MEPs to make sweeping changes to copyright law.
They were among 1,300 musicians who urged politicians to enact a law forcing sites like YouTube and Facebook to use filters that would stop users illegally uploading their music.
Musicians were being cheated out of money, they argued, even though websites were making huge profits off their work.
Critics said the laws would stifle creativity – with Creative Commons chief Ryan Merkley observing that The Beatles would have been prevented from performing cover versions under the proposed rules.
For you and me, it could have resulted in text, music and videos posted to blogs, social networks and comment sections being yanked from the net at point of upload – somewhat like YouTube’s controversial Content ID system on steroids.
In the end, MEPs decided the changes needed more debate; and sent the proposals back to Parliament. The two sides will undoubtedly step up their campaigns in the meantime.
What were they voting for?
The Copyright Directive is intended to bring rules around content in line with the digital age.
The two most controversial parts of it are Article 11 and Article 13.
The first of these is intended to provide fair remuneration for publishers and prevent online content-sharing platforms and news aggregators sharing links without paying for them. But it has been called the “link tax” by opponents and raised questions about who will have to pay and how much.
Article 13 puts more onus on websites to enforce copyright laws and could mean that any online platform that allows users to post text, images, sounds or code will need a way to assess and filter content.
Who supported it?
Supporters of the rule changes say they would improve copyright rules, giving intellectual-property protection to news and video content.
On Wednesday, Sir Paul McCartney wrote to MEPs urging them to vote in favour of the changes.
“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,” reads the letter.
“The proposed Copyright Directive and its Article 13 would address the value gap and help assure a sustainable future for the music ecosystem and its creators, fans and digital music services alike.”
Centre-right German MEP Axel Voss was in charge of pushing through the legislation and recently published a video intended to counter what he called “fake news” about the legislation.
Who opposed it?
Critics claim that Article 13 could have a massive impact on how people use the internet, putting paid to memes and remixes.
In particular there are concerns that it will require websites to scan all content being uploaded, automatically blocking anything that might infringe copyright.
The use of artificial intelligence in filters could mean they will not be able to distinguish between content that infringes copyright and fair use, such as satire and memes, they say.
A petition against the change – known as Save Your Internet – had gained 750,000 signatures.
And a letter signed by 70 influential technology leaders, including Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, described it as an “imminent threat to the future” of the internet.
Italy Wikipedia shut down for a day earlier this week in protest at the plans, which co-founder Jimmy Wales has described as “disastrous”.
The editors wrote that “Wikipedia itself would be at risk of closing”.
At the time, they said: “If the proposal is approved, it may be impossible to share a newspaper article on social networks or find it on a search engine.”