The European Union and the U.S. Congress are working on reforms to their respective copyright laws, some of which have been deemed too extreme by critics. The EU, for instance, would like force websites to enable “upload filters” and to pay for linking to other websites, while the U.S. Congress would like to extend copyright to 144 years from the already quite long 70 years + life.
EU Copyright Law Changes
As soon as June 20, next week, the European Parliament will vote a draft legislation proposed by the European Commission (EU’s executive body). Critics have attacked the proposal as being quite extreme because it could impact many digital industries too severely.
Censorship Machines (Article 13)
One of the biggest issues with the new EU copyright reform proposal is the Article 13, which mandates that websites that accept user content (anything from videos to online comments) must have an “upload filter” that would block all copyrighted content that's uploaded by users. Critics, such as Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Julia Reda, have also called upload filters “censorship machines.”
Under the censorship machine proposal, companies would be required to get a license for any copyrighted content that is uploaded to their site by its users. In other words, websites would be liable for any content their users upload to the site. It goes without saying that this could significantly hamper innovation on the internet.
For instance, YouTube or a site like it, probably wouldn’t even exist today if the site would have been liable for what users uploaded from day one. Not to mention that at the time the technology to identify potentially copyrighted content was quite rudimentary. Even today, YouTube has its occasional PR scandal over taking down content that shouldn’t have been taken down. Furthermore, those types of takedowns likely happen on a daily basis to many people, but they just don’t get enough media attention to turn into an issue for Google.
Some argue that upload filters wouldn’t be able to recognize “legal uses” of copyrighted content, even if they were 100% effective in identifying whether or not a piece of content is copyrighted or not. In this category would enter parodies, citations, and even internet memes, which typically make references to copyrighted content.
According to Reda, upload filters have already been made illegal by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which ruled that an obligation to filter all user uploads violates the fundamental rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of information and freedom to conduct a business.
Link Tax (Article 11)
The “link tax” proposal in Article 11 of the copyright reform directive is another idea that’s not just seemingly bad, but it has also failed in countries such as Spain and Germany, where it has already been attempted. Instead of getting companies such as Google or other publishers to pay for the links, or article excerpts and previews, those companies simply stopped linking to content coming from Germany and Spain.
To make matters worse, the EC will allow EU member states to decide for themselves how the link tax should work. This seems contrary to the Commission’s “Digital Single Market” objective, because it will create significant complexity for all online publishers operating in the EU. They will have to abide by all the different copyright rules in the 27 member states. Existing fragmented copyright laws in the EU is one of the reasons why services such as Netflix took so long to arrive in most European countries, too.
Reda believes that a link tax would significantly reduce the number of hyperlinks we see on the web, which means websites will be much less connected to each other. Additionally, the link tax could boost fake news, because real publishers may require others to pay for linking to its content, but fake news operations evidently will not. These groups will want their content to be spread as easily as possible.
Reda also said that the link tax would be in violation of the Berne Convention, which guarantees news websites the right to quote articles and “press summaries.”
These two articles seem to be the most controversial by far, but other issues such as the freedom to take a picture of certain public places in some EU countries isn’t even addressed in the new copyright directive. MEPs are expected to propose their own amendments to the directive in the Parliament.
Impact On Foreign Companies
Article 11 and Article 13 of the new copyright directive look like they would have a much bigger (and probably negative) impact on companies operating in the EU than the GDPR did. The GDPR, although supported by most internet users, has already put many foreign companies on edge. Many either don’t show their content to EU users, have put it behind a paywall, or simply don’t fully or properly company with the law.
If the new copyright directive passes, most American companies may simply decide that serving EU users is no longer worth it, which most likely wouldn’t be positive outcome for the EU as a whole.
If you’re an EU citizen and would like to express your opinion to your MEPs, Mozilla has created a free calling tool, while the EFF and multiple European groups have developed an easy web tool to email your own MEPs.