We’re back at the EU’s attempt to deal with some of the underlying problems of the digital economy. It’s not like there aren’t any: as ad revenue falls and print outlets struggle to make ends meet, publications shed staff or curl up and die. Creators watch their work pirated and shared freely while they have no recourse. The solution? Rewrite our copyright laws.
But not like this
The EU says it just altered copyright laws in favor of creators. That sounds good – until you look under the hood.
It’s a bad idea…
The reforms are best known for Article 11 and Article 13. Article 11 deals with links, Article 13 with uploads.
Article 11: the link tax
The internet works on links: hyperlinks were one of the first components of the web as we know it. If you want to back up a point, underscore a word or phrase or link out to a useful resource, you hyperlink.
Not any more.
The ‘link tax’ will require you to pay money to anyone whose content you link to.
This is the kind of idea that only tech-blind bureaucrats could come up with: check out the backlink profiles of any major internet company and you’ll see that its top linked sources are often its competitors. Digital companies exist in a, I guess you could say a web of information? They share their networks of knowledge with each other, something you could call a ‘net of nets,’ or, I don’t know, an ‘internet’?
Article 11 would exterminate the culture that built the $2.9 trillion digital economy.
Worse, it puts a price on freedom of speech. The amount I’d have to pay might be low – but if I had to chase up the payment system for every link in this post it might take me hours I don’t have and my editor wouldn’t pay me for.
And while multiple large companies can build systems to pay each other, tiny companies and individuals can be priced out directly, or given so many hoops to jump through that it just isn’t worth it. (There’s supposedly an exception for small businesses, shoehorned in at the last minute.)
This tax doesn’t go to a government dedicated to spending it for the common good or sharing it out; it goes to companies that have large amounts of content. In other words, in the name of content creators, Article 11 hands control of the entire internet over to its largest content publishers.
Article 13: shall I be Big Brother?
Article 13 is commonly referred to as an ‘upload filter,’ directed at platforms hosting User-Generated Content. Here, tech-blind Eurocrats meet frothing right-wingers who still use both hands for the remote control, and who are absolutely sure in their hearts that they don’t need to understand tech to legislate it.
Their perception of the problem that platforms like YouTube and Facebook present is that there’s no way to take down ‘offensive’ content (for a given value of ‘offensive’) because these are platforms, not publishers, and they won’t cop to being something they’re not however many editorials insist they should.
The solution? Force them.
To strong arms in the service of weak minds, the solution is always the application of power, which in the arts and publishing means censorship. But who should be responsible for carrying it out?
After all, the internet presents an insoluble technical problem for traditional censors. There’s so much data on here that to censor it by hand, the whole population would have to be working on the task…
So they’re going to use robots instead.
Because if there’s an entity on earth that should be allowed to decide what you are and aren’t allowed to see, say and hear, that entity is an ‘AI’ that still can’t tell the faces of black people from gorillas.
Am I right?
What this means in practice is that, since Article 13 passed, if you try to upload copyrighted material that upload will be checked against a database of copyrighted material, and if there’s a match, you won’t be able to upload it.
The aim is make sites like Google and Facebook be responsible for what their users upload – even though they aren’t and can’t be.
The result will be to force tech companies to censor the internet.
And destroy it in the process. Here’s Raegan MacDonald, Senior Policy Manager and EU Principal at Mozilla (the company behind Firefox):
‘The way this article is drafted, it kind of assumes that it’s being specific while it’s being extremely broad. So it’s not just about audio/visual content, it’s about all types and forms of copyright. It would be including lots of type of different content, even code sharing.’
Even code sharing. Does the EU really want to ban open source software and censor GitHub, or does it just not know what it’s doing?
…and it’s badly implemented…
The thing is, there’s no way this works as intended.
Remember earlier, I mentioned that it’s being rammed through by people who frankly don’t understand technology?
Yeah, so about that.
Article 11 as it now stands says that you’re not allowed to link to news articles using more than two consecutive words of the headline; at the very least this would make hyperlinks more obscure.
And tougher to use.
The result of this will be a chilling effect on backlinking and a surge in fake news and badly-researched opinion pieces.
Oh, and it strikes right at the very heart of what the internet basically is.
Only a cadaverous suit with an eye on the cash who doesn’t have any idea how the web actually works, only that The Reader’s Digest says you can make money there, would spring for an idea like this.
(Just hold it there, Axel Voss, we’ll be back around to you in a second.)
Article 13 won’t work because it can’t work. It must either a) ban all satire, commentary, parody, and interpretation or b) not filter out some copyrighted works. Because:
‘No one has ever written a software tool that can tell parody from mere reproduction, and such a thing is so far away from our current AI tools as to be science fiction (as both a science fiction writer and a Visiting Professor of Computer Science at the UK’s Open University, I feel confident in saying this).’
– Cory Doctorow
…for bad reasons, by a bad guy
Senior MEP Axel Voss took over the drafting of the copyright proposals last year. When he did, they suddenly mutated from broadly-accepted best practice to… well, to what they are now.
Voss is a staunch advocate of copyright, who doesn’t pay for the images he uses on his own social media accounts, and doesn’t, in his words, ‘understand the whole excitement’ caused by his attacks on the internet.
Here he is, explaining why he thinks his fellow MEPs are fools — and the laws he’s drafting won’t affect 99% of internet users. Just those who make money using links.
(Here are some edited highlights.)
What does Voss get out of this?
He looks almost as pleased as Ajit Pai did when he assaulted free speech in America. Unlike Pai, Voss probably isn’t directly profiting from this financially. But his bosses are very pleased with him. Maybe for him, that’s enough.
So what can you do?
Hard to know. The last defense against bad laws is the courts, and the EU top court may rule against this one on the grounds that it violates our rights.
But before then, the EU parliament will vote on this thing again in January.
So get in contact with your MEP, and tell them how you feel — and how certain you are to vote for anyone but them come election time if they put their John Hancock on this horrorshow.
The EU parliament has kicked this weaselly mess of bullshit to the kerb once. Give them a good reason to do it again. It’s your internet — your source of news, business and fun. Don’t let them take it away.