EU approves problematic copyright reform directive

in news •  last month

The EU Parliament has yesterday voted in favour of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market 2016/0280(COD). The Directive will go through a final vote next January and, once passed, will require member states to adapt their own laws to comply. In principle, this is a good move that aims to update copyright laws and construct a working framework for the Digital Single Market of the European Union. But, of course, the owner class has taken the opportunity to strengthen copyright laws, imposing more restrictions and squeezing more money out of people. In particular, there are two articles that have drawn heavy criticism.

Article 11 - The "link tax"

This article mandates the need for a paid licence if you want to publish an article that includes snippets from the original. The stated intent is to prevent the big ones (your Googles and Facebooks) from profiting off this behaviour as they have been doing. Worst case scenario, this could lead to European courts ordering ISPs to block websites such as Reddit, Steemit and countless others.

Article 13 - "The "upload filter"

This article mandates platforms that host “large amounts” of user-uploaded content to enforce copyright filters to prevent infringement. This imposes a burden on platforms that will have to invest in filtering technologies and of course, could lead to wanton censorship.

Potentially far-reaching consequences

Critics have pointed out that provisions like Article 11 have failed in the past and are a goldmine for copyright trolls.

Filters like these have been in use by Youtube for years and they are far from perfect given that false positives abound (fair use being a prominent example) and, of course, bad actors are constantly trying new tactics to bypass the filtering algorithms altogether. Even if the Youtube system worked perfectly, it would still be bad in principle as it works on the presupposition of guilt: you are found guilty until proven innocent. If a user gets unjustly hit by the filters, it's up to them to prove their innocence against giant corporations and automated Youtube responses, the proverbial fight against windmills. Since there is no punishment for bad actors, this system has been used for petty reasons such as censoring negative reviews and eventually escalated into the so-called "ad-pocalypse" that disproportionately affected new media, which just happens to have strong opinions against the establishment.

Another problematic aspect of Article 11 is that publishers cannot waive the link tax even if they want to, which would basically invalidate licences such as Creative Commons, used by Wikipedia for example. Furthermore, the cost of Wikipedia implementing a filtering system should not be ignored, the new Directive could render Wikipedia's citations as infringements and the potential for copyright trolls abusing the free encyclopedia's content is huge.

In science, there's a handful of big publishers that hold the keys to serious peer-reviewed publications. In recent times, many European institutions decided enough was enough given that access to published papers was becoming too expensive. Furthermore, a more global push for open access science has also been gaining traction (because why should publicly-funded science end up behind paywalls?), which of course prompted these big publishers to take action. Instead of helping, the new copyright laws could add even more paywalls and more expenses to science repositories and institutions.

The United Nations has also criticised the Directive from a human rights standpoint. David Kaye, United Nations special rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, published a letter stating that the vague letter of the new legislation violates the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, among other issues.

If you dig, you can find some good-faith reasoning behind Article 11 and 13, even billionaire Paul McCartney came out in favour. But as I see it, the letter of the new legislation leaves too much wiggle room for bad actors and corporations to abuse.

Vote in the EU elections

If you are a EU citizen please look at the voting records of the current MEPs and consider voting in the next elections. I'm not here to endorse any party in particular because even though I am something of a political junkie, the politics of the EU parliament are not my strong suit. Even so, I do want to give a shout out to the "European Pirate Party" which is on the right side of this issue at least on paper. I know their name may sound goofy but they have a serious ideology. It's not about "lol we like piracy and memes," the ideology is centred around serious issues of privacy, freedom of information, direct democracy and sensible copyright reform. The different pirate parties of Europe usually lean towards the Green and more progressive end of the spectrum.

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