Down but not out: the fight over the EU’s Copyright Directive isn’t over yet

The European Parliament has voted down the insane Articles 11 and 13 of the new EU Copyright Directive, which would have ended the internet as we know it by laying a financial levy on linking to sources of information.

Which is insane because the internet doesn’t work that way.

The right to use and reuse, not the right to be recognized and recompensed, is the central feature of the web. It’s why it’s such a powerful technology.

 But this doesn’t mean the fight is over.

Sounds crazy. Let’s talk about it some more

Rather than being thrown out altogether, and everyone who proposed them being taken to somewhere with nice views, bland food and soft walls, they’ve been put back before the EU parliament to be reconsidered and redrafted.

Here’s what we’re up against.

Article 11 proposes to force platforms to pay a levy for using snippets of information as links on their sites. And Article 13 proposes to hold tech companies responsible for all the content that’s hosted on their platforms.

Those rules could force any platform to scan every piece of content that gets published by its users, and pre-emptively stop the publication of anything that contravenes them. Considering the gigantic quantity of content published to the web each day, there’s only one way to do this: AI.

Following these rules would mean handing the web over to robo-censors that are bad at doing a job that should never be done at all.

We don’t want human censors – let alone robot ones

We wouldn’t give these powers to an individual, or a group of individuals. From Gutenburg through Luther to Paine, Nabokov and Joyce, Lawrence and Buñuel, Europe has benefited from those states that didn’t have censors more than from those that did. We should have moved beyond the point where old men in back rooms decided for us what we should and shouldn’t be allowed to see and hear.

If we don’t want humans doing the job, how much less should we allow AI to do it? After all, AI is currently unable to do the job adequately anyway, meaning rules that shouldn’t exist at all will be enforced arbitrarily and with no judicial oversight or democratic accountability: by law, private companies will be forced to incompetently censor you.

So, how did the vote go?

It was a close call. Your Internet needs you

318 lawmakers voted against the proposals, 278 voted in favour and 31 abstained.

That’s not a big majority. Next time, we could lose.

It’s absolutely vital to keep up pressure on your MEP as the legislation is discussed again. Publishers, musicians and other rights owners often see these laws as a way to protect what’s ‘theirs’ or help up-and-coming artists and creators get some recompense for their work. Which is fine. But this law won’t help. It’s like the sporadic efforts to ban cassette tapes or DVD rips: ill-advised, ill-intentioned, and unenforceable.

How can you keep up pressure on your MEPs?

Start talking to them. (You have more than one; regions are represented by several, more like US Representatives than like British MPs.)

Go to the Open Rights Group page here or the European Parliament page here, get in touch with your MEPs and get them talking with you. You might have to fire a few emails back and forth, and you might get a few interactions with gatekeepers. But in the end your message will get through.

If you have the time, pick up the phone. Call your MEPs directly. It’s the most effective way to get a legislator’s attention.

Meantime, stay private, anonymous and secure online: get yourself a VPN!

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