On Wednesday, the EU voted to add a couple of little articles into legislation with a 438 to 226 vote. Their consequences, however, are not so little. These articles pertain to the EU Copyright Directive, an effort established by the EU to update the copyright law for the digital age.
So, Articles 11 and 13, what are they and why do we care?
The “Link tax,” as it has been named by many.
Article 11 is designed to get major tech platforms to pay publishers when they share a link to an article. So, Google, Facebook, and other information vendors would need to pay news outlets for the legal ability to link or quote their articles.
Okay, paying to use third party content, that’s understandable. But let’s take the “link” part of that sentence into consideration. Under Article 11, Wikipedia would be expected to pay news or other in-scope outlets when articles link back to them as sources. As a non-profit, that simply isn’t going to happen.
Funnily enough, this has been tried before — more than once. The latest attempt was by Spain. In October 2014 they imposed their own version of the link tax which was met with Google News and other major news publishers pulling their access for the country. Think about that: Google decided that it was more cost effective to pull a product from an entire country than to try and meet the demands of this legislation. This link tax effectively resulted in significantly less traffic to small publishers and local news sources shutting down entirely.
This one goes by the moniker “Upload Filter.”
Article 13 requires companies to filter all user content before it is put online and verify that it doesn’t contain any copyrighted material.
Again, it sounds fair at first glance. Until you remember how the internet works.
Every post on every site (comments on this article, pictures on Facebook, etc.) would need to be reviewed for protected content prior to uploading and blocked if anything is found. Is that a McDonalds logo in the background of your selfie? Denied. Video of you singing along to the Backstreet Boys while driving to work? Blocked. Live streaming? Gone.
Aside from how ridiculous that all sounds, it’s simply technically infeasible to identify all copyrighted material in consumer-provided content.
The Other Side
I won’t make this a corporations-versus-the-consumer argument, but it is important to understand the other side of the argument. Supporters of Articles 11 and 13 believe that they will result in compensation for musicians, authors, and filmmakers as their content appears online outside of their normal publications. A noble effort, but opponents believe this is not the way to do it.
As indicated with Spain in regards to their link tax attempt, it is much more likely that many of the services currently enjoyed on the internet will simply cease offering their services to EU customers, rather than spend the time and resources abiding by these new restrictions.
There is a final vote for the directive in January 2019, but the support from the members of the European parliament seems to indicate that it will pass as well. As it is up to EU member states on how they will implement the rules, it is difficult to raise awareness on how these issues will directly affect consumers until each member starts outlining their plan.
As an advocate for net neutrality, I view Articles 11 and 13 as major obstructions to free speech and the internet as we see it today. I believe that the problem lies in the lawmakers’ misunderstanding in how the internet functions in today’s society.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.