Emergency Podcast - Save Your Internet

22 March 2019
Photo by Bradley Hopkins on Unsplash

What started as an effort to harmonize copyright across European countries, making it easier for users to navigate through such complex regulations, has now turned into a whirlwind and, if approved, may very well break the internet as we know it, while putting our civil liberties at stake.

As you know, White Market Podcast has been reporting on alternative copyright licensing models and frameworks for a long time now, focusing mostly on independent creators and digitally-distributed music. We have covered the current EU copyright reform almost since its beginning, having interviewed MEP Julia Reda back in 2015 and multiple stakeholders since then: musicians, label-leaders, platform representatives, activists, copyright and digital rights specialists.

We now urge you to stand by the more than 5 million EU citizens that have already pledged to Save Your Internet, and join us in the ultimate Action Week against Article 13 and Article 11.

You can do it by:

  1. calling your MEP and telling them why this reform can’t be approved,
  2. signing the petition on Change.org
  3. and spreading the word.

So, what is so wrong about this proposed Copyright Directive?

The two main issues are article 11 and article 13 (which now has been officially numbered as article 17), but tragically they’re not alone.

Article 13 proposes automatic filters that scan content upon uploading, establishing censorship machines to detect copyright infringing content. Such technology already exists and is used by mega platforms, like YouTube, but for now it’s put in place after publishing. To instate such filters prior to publishing is “inconsistent with human rights standards”. These are not my words. They’re a quote by David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, one of the many specialists that has spoken against such measure. Like him, many civil society organisations, programmers, academics and even some MEPs are standing together against Article 13.

Article 13 is bad for users, bad for creators and bad for business.

It restricts freedom of expression by monitoring and blocking content publishing based on the assumption that everyone will be infringing copyright, basically treating everyone like a potential criminal. This will make less content available online, regardless of whether the content is legal or not, as the platforms will rely solely on their own terms and conditions to block content, instead of legal grounds - you know, “better safe than sorry”. Ultimately, there will be no user safeguards and the burden falls only on the citizens: those who create content legally, and those who want to enjoy it, as they all get caught between platforms and publishers.

It will also hinder competition as the development of such monitoring technology is incredibly expensive, leaving it just for those with big pockets. Plus, adding some minor exceptions for smaller companies, still prevents their growth and the possibility for them to succeed in a digital world already dominated by giants.

Article 13 only benefits big businesses, mainly the big copyrights holders, like major music publishers, and tech giants, like Google and Facebook. Since they have already literally invested millions in the development of these filters, they are likely to play the main role in commercializing solutions compliant with the proposed requirements, cashing in those big bucks.

On top of this, despite such major investment in censorship technology, these automatic filters cannot really tell the difference between legal exceptions and actual infringement. We know this because they have continuously flagged content wrongly - including things, such a flagging original content and usage of works under the public domain, for instance. And yes, memes and gifs are very likely to take a huge hit, as they are built mostly on copyrighted content.

Robots cannot identify what’s legal or not. As such, they shouldn’t get this job.

illustration with blocked servers because of article 13

The other big issue with the Copyright Directive is Article 11, which proposes the so called “Link Tax” - an extra tax that says that anyone using snippets of journalistic online content must first get a license from the publisher.

There are all sorts of wrongs with this proposal, starting with the fact that it restricts freedom of expression and access to information. In a world invaded by fake news and misinformation, adding an extra tax to be able to link to news is a recipe for disaster. Websites, such a propaganda outlets are very unlikely to charge for snippets, making their content way more likely to be shared across social media, for instance.

This will impact not only social media. Things such as media monitoring services and fact-checking website will also be forced to pay these licenses. Obviously, this completely obliterates news-based start-ups, keeping them away from innovation as technology advances. It’s also bad for smaller media since aggregators, like Google News, Feedly or even MetaCritic, create a level playing field for independent publishers online.

We know that this is very likely to fail, we’ve seen it happen in both Germany and Spain, where similar measures were implemented. What happened? In Germany, this law is likely to be pronounced invalid in court soon and in Spain the result was a “negative impact on visibility and access to information”, and I’m quoting the European Parliament now.

One of the tricky things about this article is that news publishers defend it based on the fact that journalists should be paid for their work, but that’s not what the text says. The text mentions an “appropriate pay”, not a proportional pay which means that ultimately the publisher can say that the journalist is already paid as they’re employed the news outlet, and therefore requires no extra compensation. Again, don’t be fooled: this article adds no benefit to the journalists and their work, it’s just for the publisher. And there are no exceptions on the current text for Article 11: snippets published on services run by individuals, small companies or even non-profits - they will all be required to pay a license.

Last but not least, I’d like mention the very limited exception for text and data mining on article 3. As it stands, such research method is only reserved for “research institutions” and “for the purposes of scientific research”. This excludes companies, independent researchers, journalists, and basically anyone with no formal ties to such institutions of using these techniques for any data analysis and wider investigations.

The vote that will determine the future of your internet is about to happen.

It will take place next week at the European Parliament, on the 26th or the 27th of March, so either Tuesday or Wednesday.

You can still take action by calling your MEP, urging them to vote against this reform, and tell them them that they will not get your vote in the upcoming European elections if they fail you. You can also sign the petition on Change.org and share this information with everybody you know.

White Market Podcast will continue to stride for a fair copyright: one that works for users and independent creators, fostering innovation and creativity. And where technology stands for freedom and not against it.

Podcast credits & info

Download the FLAC version on Archive.org.

This text and the podcast contain excerpts from Julia Reda's website and the Save Your Internet campaign by EDRI.

All songs licensed under CC BY-SA

Lee Rosevere - "It Was Like That When I Got Here" & "We Don't Know How it Ends" Six Umbrellas - "Rise" & "Sparks"