Recently, the EU proposed a set of controversial copyright laws known as the European Union Copyright Directive. Thankfully, MEPs voted down the proposals to ensure they would not become law; at least for the time being. But what exactly was so controversial about this proposal? What is about these proposed copyright laws that should worry all of us?
I consider myself to be someone who can see the benefits of copyright laws; content creators need to make a living and deserve compensation for their work. However, the execution of said copyright laws is key, and I can wholeheartedly agree with the majority of MEPs that the European Commission got this idea completely wrong.
In essence, the problems centre around two specific areas of the suggested legislation: Article 11 and Article 13.
Article 11, for example, states that any content aggregator (Google, Facebook, Reddit etc) would be required to pay a “link tax” to any site that it linked to. This would be subject to rampant abuse, similar to how DMCA takedowns are abused on Youtube, with channel owners being unfairly and arbitrarily punished instantly once a takedown is issued. Perhaps more dangerous, however, is the sheer lack of awareness from proponents of this legislation of just how much money a content aggregator can offer to a company through driving traffic to a site.
Take, for example, the “Google v Belgium link war”. Following a court order sought by Copiepresse, Google was forced to remove all mentions of a number of French/Belgian newspapers represented from their news aggregator “Google News”, or pay Copiepresse a link tax. Google adhered to the ruling and removed all mentions of the newspapers shortly after Copiepresse caved and begged Google to have their sites re-listed – perhaps after noticing just how much traffic, and therefore revenue, their sites had lost. This is a golden example of not only how valuable it is to have your site listed on a content aggregator, but also how tech companies will behave under legislation similar to Article 11.
Following on from this is Article 13, which is by no means any less controversial. Article 13 shifts the onus of copyright infringement detection onto websites, usually through some form of an automated detection system.
Again, it is important to stress that copyright laws are necessary, but they also require the correct implementation. By shifting the onus of infringement detection to websites, you are massively favouring big sites over small ones. The obvious choice for infringement detection is an automated system, due to the impossibility of having humans check for copyright infringement over the sheer volume of data on the internet. A system like this costs Youtube £53 million pounds. It is obvious that not every website has this kind of money lying around.
However, the issues with this proposal do not end there. Another potential issue with these automated systems is the way in which they stifle creativity. An automated system is not as clever as a human and will almost always make mistakes, as seen by the way currently implemented systems behave with numerous false positive results.
It is, therefore, a relief that on the 5th of July these laws were rejected by MEPs. What worries me, however, is that this does not kill the proposals. It will now go on to be debated by member states’ legislators, potentially for another chance at being passed into law. I am extremely concerned that the public backlash to these laws won’t be sustained, and the EU will pass them anyway once public interest in the laws fades.
It cannot be stressed enough how much of a disaster these laws would be, both due to the fact they would crush small businesses that rely on the internet for commerce and also because the companies pushing for Article 11 and 13 do not understand the extent of the damage they will cause with these laws. At the very best, Article 11 and 13 are just anti-consumer. However, at their worst – which I suspect will be the case – they are anti-consumer, anti-creator and anti-business.