Tomorrow, EU lawmakers are going to vote on an obscure legal proposal called the Copyright Directive that could have a massive impact on how Europeans use the internet. Critics say that the proposal could stifle information sharing, enable broad censorship, and make some memes illegal.
The Copyright Directive is being pushed as a way to protect copyrights. The expressed goals of its supporters include regulating the illegal streaming and downloading of pirated movies and music. However, the intentionally vague wording of the law means that it can be applied to a broad range of cases beyond what its supporters and creators have envisioned for it. There are two articles in particular – Article 11 and Article 13 – that have everyone talking.
Currently, it is generally accepted that individuals are responsible for what they share online and whether or not it violates someone’s copyright. Article 13 aims to make websites and platforms responsible by implementing automated AI filters (since it’s clear that manully checking content would be impossible).
The problem with AI filters is that they’re very bad at detecting the nuances between plagiarism and the concepts of fair use, satire, or derivative works. We’ve already seen this problem in action on Youtube, where large businesses and copyright trolls censor video creators by issuing phony copyright violation accusations. To cover its own liability, Youtube often honors takedown requests without analyzing the original content and the video in question. The lengthy appeals process puts small, independent publishers at a disadvantage and can cost them thousands. Indeed, there are even signs that Youtube is ramping up its censorship efforts in anticipation of the Copyright Directive law.
Mandated copyright filters wouldn’t just impact Youtube creators. Can filters distinguish between a quote and plagiarism? Can they tell when a photo is being used unfairly and when it’s being used as political satire or as a playful meme? If you create music and share it online, when does a sample track become theft?
If Facebook can’t get it right, chances are grim for any other systems trying to solve this issue. Facebook’s recent attempts at regulating political content have been met with sharp criticism for filtering content using absurdly broad parameters. Sometimes, all it takes is for the tangential mention of an offending keyword for Facebook to block a page from sharing it. Even the New York Times suffered blocks for sharing political content! I’d tell you what some of those offending keywords might be, but then I wouldn’t be able to share this post on Facebook. That’s censorship in action!
Article 11, the other contentious point of the Copyright Directive, is a strange proposal that would allow (or even obligate) publishers to charge a “link tax.” This means that any link to copyrighted content would obligate the creator fo that link to pay the publisher of the content being linked to.
Naturally, this article would be disastrous for the internet as we know it. Independent blogs and other small content creators unable to afford the link tax would simply stop using links, leading to stagnation in the online flow of information that we all take for granted. To be honest, I am shocked and dismayed that a proposal like this even made it into any law being seriously considered by the European Union!
The Copyright directive begins its journey into law tomorrow, June 20th, when the Legal Committee of the EU Parliament votes on whether this law will progress any further.
Right now, things aren’t looking good. Julia Reda, a MEP from the European Pirates party, created a table on her blog post that illustrates the support other countries other countries’ representatives have placed behind the initiative. You can see it on her blog post, though that may no longer be the case if the law is ratified, as I won’t be allowed to link to other people’s content!
Right now, you can visit savetheinternet.info to sign their petition and see what the next step could be in defeating this proposal. The site has everything you need to get the word out, but you have to act now because there isn’t much time left! Share this article with your friends and use the dropdown at the bottom of their page to find your MEP and contact them.
If tomorrow’s vote passes, there will be several other votes that must pass before the law comes into effect. However, the chance for the Copyright directive to become law will grow greater and greater with each successful vote. We’ll keep you updated!