The European Parliament today voted in favour of allowing people to copy digital content, such as music and films on CDs or from the internet, as long as the copying is not for commercial purposes.

This was not the original directive, which threatened to prevent individuals from making copies of any article that carries a copyright, even for personal use.

A huge majority of 471 parliamentarians supported an amendment to the copyright directive that grants personal copying an exception; 53 members of parliament opposed the amendment and 23 abstained, said parliament spokeswoman Marjory Van den Broeke.

Liberals who were expected to fight the amendment were in fact glad, Van den Broeke said. "The Liberals are happy with this. They agreed that the nine amendments adopted are favourable to artists. The notion of fair compensation is stressed in the agreed text," she said.

The text, including the parliament's amendments, will go before European government ministers. If they agree to the parliament's amendments, the directive will be passed and referred to the 15 member states of the European Union to be transposed into national law.

Had the directive been passed without amendment the copying of material would only have been allowed where the material was to be used as part of a technological process (such as caching by internet service providers), or in the interest of the public.

In this digital age it is increasingly difficult for copyright holders to prevent infringement. The internet practically eliminates any barriers to copying, an issue epitomised by the notorious music site Napster, currently at the centre of a legal battle over copyright laws in the US.