Article 13: Just as bad as everyone said

The EU meme Ban

What happened?

Article 13 has passed. In a monumental act of stupidity, the European Parliament has decided to force companies to censor the internet. It’s also imposed the notorious link tax.

How did we get here?

The story of how we ended up saddled with this piece of trash is shocking in places. For instance, look at the final vote — where several MEPS, confused by a recent change iun the voting order, voted the opposite way from how they’d intended to vote and let the law pass.

Yes, really.

But behind it is the same old con.

It’s not a new idea. It’s as old as the internet, nearly. As long as there has been an information superhighway — yes, even right back when people in suits literally stood in front of cameras and said that with a straight face — there’s been uproar about the Four Horsemen of the Internet Apocalypse: Child P0*ographers, drug dealers, terrorists and money-launderers.

Check out some of the history and you can see the same arguments being rehashed over and over again, largely as the increasingly elderly lawmakers who actually govern our sclerotic democracies don’t, can’t or won’t understand how the technology we rely on actually works.

Tell them, ‘the internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it,’ and they’ll just wave a hand irritably (if arthritically) and bring you back to the subject at hand: how we’re gonna stop all these terrorists getting radicalized on there.

Of course, you’d have to look a long way, or at least at some very unpleasant sections of 4Chan, to find people vocally in favor of pedophilia, money-laundering and terrorism. No argument from me here.

But here’s the thing: they’re easy sells.

Our children are in danger!

Quick: new laws.

But Article 13 and Article 11, the Dumb and Dumberer of digital mislegislation, aren’t about saving the children. They’re about saving the copyright holders’ income streams. That’s a tougher sell.

‘Protecting rights holders’

It’s worth noticing in passing that it did sell, and that many of the people who bought into it — musicians’ and artists’ groups whose members were reassured by their leadership that their rights would be protected, for instance — are holding a handful of bird gravel now, since the wording of the law was changed at the last moment, apparently as the result of a drunken bet, to make it even worse than it already was.

Of course, it’s easy to feel that these rubes deserved what they got: they got stung while they were selling the rest of us out, after all. But we should remember the massive campaign of propaganda designed to keep them on board until they were no longer useful, too.

Partly because of that, these atrocious pieces of legislation have come in for a bit more healthy scrutiny. They were sharply opposed online, of course, and drew serious resistance from privacy and freedom advocates who warned that they would criminalize many common online behaviors that made the internet what it is: meming, quoting, linking, copying and pasting, sharing. What’s the internet when you can’t link to anything?

Yes, it really is that bad

We were reassured, or at least, our lawmakers told us things they hoped would reassure us. No need to worry. There will be exemptions. There will be protections. Why are you getting so worked up? It’s not as bad as you think!

Turns out, it’s exactly as bad as we’ve been warning.

Axel Voss, the man behind Article 13, has been making the rounds in the run-up to the vote telling lies and cheerleading for astroturf trade groups like Europe for Creators (while the real creators warn louder and louder of the harm he’s doing.) He’s spent a year telling anyone who will listen that the law won’t affect 99% of internet users, and there’s no need to worry that he’s set in motion a steamroller that will obliterate the digital economy in Europe and crush free speech. (If we’re lucky, the EU court may actualy overturn the law on this basis.)

Here he is, brazenly lying about what Article 13 means

In fact, here’s what Article 13 means

It means platforms are responsible in law for the content they host.

That’s Youtube, Facebook — all the ‘tech giants’ featrued in this Washington Post headline. And a bunch of others. The debate is framed as a fight between tech giants — arrogant Silicon Valley titans, throwing their weight around in pursuit of profit and pretending they can’t do anything about all these drug dealers, pedophiles, money-launderers and terrorists — and the Law, which has ridden to the rescue and tamed the Wild West of the internet.

Yeah. The EU parliament isn’t Clint Eastwood, and while there are plenty of tech companies that are pissed about this, the real targets are you and me.

Because you know what else is a platform?

  • This blog.
  • Your blog.
  • All the blogs you like to read.

If it’s hosted — Blogger, hosted WP blogs — then the hosting company is responsible for everything on there. If you host it, you are.

It’s a crushing blow against free speech disguised as an attempt to ‘make sure musicians get paid.’

Here’s our infographic about how Article 13 will affect your internet:

The end of memes explained infographicWhat can we do?

There’s been huge outcry on the web (don’t worry, they’ll soon censor that).

Youtube weighed in:

Creators and artists have built businesses on the back of openness and supported by our sophisticated copyright management tools, including Content ID and the recently launched Copyright Match Tool that manages re-uploads of creators’ content.

The reliably clearsighted MEP Julia Reda has spoken on the subject too:

But the horrorshow isn’t in business quite yet: first it has to pass the European Cuoncil where member states will vote on it.

There’s a chance that some member states will alter their positions on the subject. In Germany right now, enormous protests aim at changing the attitude of the Gerrman government

Protests in GermanySource

Meanwhile Germany’s politicians are on TV claiming the entertainment industry has paid people to march for their own freedom.

Britain is another country whose national legislature (to the extent that one exists at the time of writing) can make a difference, though it seems more likely that they will find a way to satisfy their authoritarian instincts and the populist urges of their electoral base simultaneously

Julia Reda and Boris Johnson on Twitter

So what can we do to protect what’s left of the internet?

You have two main tasks ahead of you.

One is to fight this by applying pressure to your legislature. Espially if you’re in Poland, Germany or the UK, three European countries most likely to flip their position. It takes just one country to veto the law. Make it yours!

The other thing you need to do is learn to adapt to a new, hostile online environment. Before they were just spying on us, now they’re actually on the attack. Time to VPN up and get your infosec up to scratch!

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