Government regulation usually ruins everything it touches, and the internet is no exception. Whether it is the outdated anti-hacking laws in the United States such as the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act or the woefully misguided anti-human trafficking laws that are SESTA/FOSTA, governments have repeatedly failed to regulate the internet without unintended consequences. The latest instance of this is the EU Copyright Directive and within it, Article 13.
On March 26, the European Parliament voted in favor of adopting the EU Copyright Directive. The law was crafted to protect content creators from being taken advantage of. While this goal may be noble, its unintended consequences could damage the fundamental principles of the internet.
Article 13: Upload Filters
One of the most controversial parts of the new law is Article 13. This provision makes internet platforms liable for content that users upload to them. This is a radical departure from how the internet and copyright law works in the United States and most elsewhere around the world. As a result, it could fundamentally change how people use the internet.
If online platforms are liable for uploaded content, they will be very cautious about what they allow; they will be living in constant fear of breaking the new law. Punishments could come in the form of hefty fines and lawsuits. The only answer to this problem for major platforms such as YouTube or Facebook is to implement upload filters.
An upload filter would scan all material on sites that rely on user-generated content. It would then ensure that users are not uploading any copyrighted material. This sounds good on its face, but the drawbacks are obvious.
Flawed Technology and Censorship
First off, the big tech platforms claim their upload filters are not fool-proof and are not ready for use. They will likely train the filters to be as strict as possible so they can minimize the amount of copyrighted content that slips through. To avoid violating Article 13, YouTube has said they may have to ban all EU citizens from uploading content at all.
Second, one must remember that most internet memes include “copyrighted material” such as screenshots from movies or snippets from songs. This is why many are calling Article 13 a “meme ban.” Proponents of the law claim that Fair Use laws still protect “satire”. However, it would be almost impossible for an upload filter to detect whether a movie screenshot or song snippet was supposed to be satirical. It would ultimately result in any non-original meme being caught by the upload filter and blocked from being uploaded.
Lastly, an upload filter is open to abuse and could easily become a tool for mass censorship. In an age where tech companies already have immense power over the flow of information, the last thing we need is to force them to take even more power over it.
The Link Tax
Also included in the EU Copyright Directive is Article 11, which calls for a “link tax.” This link tax would be applied to companies like Google that link to other people’s work. It is intended to ensure nobody uses a creator’s content without compensating them, but it is poorly thought out and will have unintended consequences.
A link tax under Article 11 would likely lead to licensing deals between major tech companies and large news organizations. This would suppress smaller, independent news sites that don’t have the resources to negotiate a licensing deal. Because of the lack of a licensing deal, Google would be hesitant to link to their articles in fear of being in violation of the directive. Also, linking to source materials would require a fee, making it very expensive to publish well-sourced articles.
71 Republic would struggle to obtain necessary funds to continue if the internet in the United States operated under the rules of Article 11.
If a link tax applies to Google, it would also apply to individuals. It gives entities like major news organizations broad power to abuse the law and sue individuals that simply link to their news articles without compensating them. It could suppress the sharing of information on the internet, which has always been one of its hallmarks.
Who Supports Article 13?
To the surprise of nobody, the main supporters of the EU Copyright Directive are large news organizations, music publishers, and the film industry. After all, they will benefit from Article 13 and Article 11. This is yet another example of big businesses using their lobbying power to influence the government to further their own interests at the expense of consumers.
Proponents of the directive sold it as “leveling the playing field” between American tech companies and European tech companies. Ironically, it will only further entrench existing tech companies and strangle start-ups that attempt to compete with them due to the immense cost of implementing an upload filter. The only organizations that benefit from this directive are those I listed above.
Their claim is that the new law stops the unlawful use of their intellectual property. While it is important to stop intellectual property theft, the new copyright directive is the wrong way to go about it.
Who Opposes It?
“In a stunning rejection of the will of five million online petitioners, and over 100,000 protestors this weekend, the European Parliament has abandoned common-sense and the advice of academics, technologists, and UN human rights experts…” Danny O’Brien wrote in a post on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website.
The directive has been the ire of digital rights activists for years. They were the first ones to warn the public about Article 11 (the link tax) and Article 13 (upload filters). MEPs like Julia Reda of the German Pirate Party led the charge against the directive but ultimately failed to stop it.
Dark day for internet freedom: The @Europarl_EN has rubber-stamped copyright reform including #Article13 and #Article11. MEPs refused to even consider amendments. The results of the final vote: 348 in favor, 274 against #SaveYourInternet pic.twitter.com/8bHaPEEUk3
— Julia Reda (@Senficon) March 26, 2019
The Internet’s Core Principle
The free flow of information is what has made the internet so revolutionary. It allows news to spread that people need to see. It also allows for entire cultures that know no borders to form.
The EU Copyright Directive is a direct threat to this fundamental principle of the internet. Without this principle, the internet ceases to be revolutionary. It becomes bland and boring and just another place corporations can use to make profits. It crushes creativity and the ability to share information or art.
The EU will not enforce this directive for another two years. But in the meantime, tech companies will prepare their upload filters and begin censoring their search results.
I hope Europeans enjoy the internet in its current state while they can. I fear that once they enforce Article 13 and Article 11, the internet will not be the same.
71 Republic takes pride in distinctively independent journalism and editorials. Every dollar you give helps us grow our mission of providing reliable coverage. Please consider donating to our Patreon.