The European Union and the U.S. Congress are working on reforms to their respective copyright laws, some of which have been deemed too extreme by critics. The EU, for instance, would like force websites to enable “upload filters” and to pay for linking to other websites, while the U.S. Congress would like to extend copyright to 144 years from the already quite long 70 years + life.
EU Copyright Law Changes
As soon as June 20, next week, the European Parliament will vote a draft legislation proposed by the European Commission (EU’s executive body). Critics have attacked the proposal as being quite extreme because it could impact many digital industries too severely.
Censorship Machines (Article 13)
One of the biggest issues with the new EU copyright reform proposal is the Article 13, which mandates that websites that accept user content (anything from videos to online comments) must have an “upload filter” that would block all copyrighted content that’s uploaded by users. Critics, such as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda, have also called upload filters “censorship machines.”
Under the censorship machine proposal, companies would be required to get a license for any copyrighted content that is uploaded to their site by its users. In other words, websites would be liable for any content their users upload to the site. It goes without saying that this could significantly hamper innovation on the internet.
For instance, YouTube or a site like it, probably wouldn’t even exist today if the site would have been liable for what users uploaded from day one. Not to mention that at the time the technology to identify potentially copyrighted content was quite rudimentary. Even today, YouTube has its occasional PR scandal over taking down content that shouldn’t have been taken down. Furthermore, those types of takedowns likely happen on a daily basis to many people, but they just don’t get enough media attention to turn into an issue for Google.
Some argue that upload filters wouldn’t be able to recognize “legal uses” of copyrighted content, even if they were 100% effective in identifying whether or not a piece of content is copyrighted or not. In this category would enter parodies, citations, and even internet memes, which typically make references to copyrighted content.
According to Reda, upload filters have already been made illegal by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which ruled that an obligation to filter all user uploads violates the fundamental rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom to conduct a business.
Impact On Foreign Companies
Article 11 and Article 13 of the new copyright directive look like they would have a much bigger (and probably negative) impact on companies operating in the EU than the GDPR did. The GDPR, although supported by most internet users, has already put many foreign companies on edge. Many either don’t show their content to EU users, have put it behind a paywall, or simply don’t fully or properly company with the law.
If the new copyright directive passes, most American companies may simply decide that serving EU users is no longer worth it, which most likely wouldn’t be positive outcome for the EU as a whole.
If you’re an EU citizen and would like to express your opinion to your MEPs, Mozilla has created a free calling tool, while the EFF and multiple European groups have developed an easy web tool to email your own MEPs.
The European Union is updating its 2001 Copyright Directive, with a key committee vote coming up on June 20 or 21; on GDPR day, a rogue MEP jammed a mass censorship proposal into the draft that is literally the worst idea anyone in Europe ever had about the internet, ever.
Under “Article 13,” sites that allow the public to post anything that might be copyrighted — text, pics, videos, games, sounds, code — will have to run user submissions through a copyright filter that will check to see if it matches the a known copyrighted work. It’s YouTube’s perennially busted, overblocking Content ID, but for everything from Github to the copyrighted images on that band tee you wore in your Tinder profile.
These black boxes will have the unaccountable power of life or death over everything Europeans say to each other online. They’ll ingest everything we say to each other — likely sending it to one of the giant American tech companies that specialise in this kind of filtering — and render a judgment.
Anyone can add to the blacklist, too: under Article 13, sites have to let people claim new copyrighted works — but the rule has no penalties for abuse. Trolls can lay claim to every word ever posted to Wikipedia and stop anyone from quoting it on a WordPress site or Twitter or Facebook.