EU Parliament vote on copyright reform

Lawmakers in the European Parliament have voted to turn their backs on key principles on which the internet was built; namely openness, decentralisation, and collaboration.

Parliamentarians have given a green light to new rules that will compel online services to implement blanket upload filters, a crude and ineffective measure that could well spell an end to the rich creative fabric of memes, mashups, and GIFs that make internet culture so great. The Parliament’s vote also endorses a ‘link tax’ that will undermine access to knowledge and the sharing of information in Europe. I would like to add some of the facts on why we should be alarmed about this reform and what this means for everyone:

Mandatory upload filters and copyright licensing provisions in article 13 of the proposed law are unworkable for open source software firms and the open source ecosystem generally. The obligations cover all forms of copyright-protected content, including software. Indeed, the cost and legal risk associated with these new rules would push smaller open source software developers out of Europe and threaten the code-sharing platforms (e.g. GitHub, GitLab…) on which they depend to innovate. The fluid nature of technology and software development means that any carve-outs — say for software development platforms — would still risk creating a risk-laden environment.

When internet users want to share a witty meme online, or a home movie in which background music is audible, or even a photo of themselves wearing a t-shirt with an album cover printed on it, they may well find that their favourite online service blocks the content upload. Internet services of all sizes will be forced to implement automatic filtering technology, likely suppressing anything that looks like it might be infringing copyright, irrespective of whether the user has a right or permission to use the content. Given the crucial role the internet plays in citizens’ everyday lives, the impact on creativity, communication, and free expression from such blanket filtering would be palpable.

Article 13 demands that online services build or buy specific technology to monitor and categorise each and every user upload. At a time when the EU is showing global leadership on privacy and data protection, it is deeply regrettable that lawmakers are nonetheless seeking to codify a regime that would compel service providers to monitor European internet users’ activity with even more vigour.

Article 13 will be used to restrict the freedom of expression and creative potential of independent artists who depend upon online services to directly reach their audience and bypass the rigidities and limitations of the commercial content industry. Sadly, the fight over this legislation has been construed as giant rights holders versus giant online platforms. But in reality, the true victims will be creators and fans themselves. There’s a bitter irony at play: the directors, actors, songwriters, and artists who benefit from the viral sharing of their creations are now pitted against their fans, who in fact do some of the most efficient online marketing artists can hope for.

Smaller online services – and not giant platforms – will be hit hardest by the new rules

In addition to it’s impact on user experience, this law will have another, more insidious impact: it will further entrench the power of the biggest online platforms. Only a handful of the largest tech companies have the technical and financial means to operate the sprawling filtering systems that this law demands. Ironically, the companies at which this law is aimed are already filtering content — and so will have a competitive advantage vis-a-vis their smaller rivals and startups, who will need to invest heavily to comply with the law. In addition, the biggest platforms also have the resources and clout to mount legal defences when larger corporate rights holders seek to suppress legal content. This is not an option for smaller players who will face a high-stakes game of legal risk.

More than ever, we need to think about how we build a truly decentralised internet. There’s great technologies and ideas out there now such as the utilisation of the protocol dat:// for peer-to-peer websites or the usage of TOR as network. That said, we should raise our voice and let our local governments know that we’re not happy with this decision and fight to change it and make our voices hear.

Together as a group, we can make a difference ✊

Javier Sánchez @jsanchez