A hotly-contested copyright provision is haunting Europe, troubling internet freedom advocates and content creators alike. Article 13, facing its final vote, would place heavy restrictions on content sharing, from films to memes.
The proposed law requires anyone sharing copyrighted content to obtain permission from rights owners, even if the content is just an animated gif on Twitter. Even re-purposing an image for a meme would require permission from the image's creator, because while memes are protected as parodies under current copyright law, an automated filter is incapable of distinguishing between a parody and a ripoff.
If the new directive passes, user-generated content platforms from Facebook to Wikipedia would be forced to implement “upload filters” to ensure material doesn’t run afoul of someone else’s copyright or risk being sued. The filter would analyze the content being uploaded, compare it to a database of copyrighted works, and either permit its passage or kick it back to the uploader. Prohibitively expensive, vulnerable to bugs, and prone to extensive collateral censorship, such filters have the potential to effectively hobble the free exchange of information the internet has come to represent.
A version of Article 13 passed the Parliament in September despite widespread public outcry and mutated into an even more restrictive proposal during closed-door negotiations between lawmakers and major corporations. It faces a final vote before becoming law.
For these reasons and more, many internet users are aghast at the prospect that the law might pass. It’s hard to imagine the information superhighway reduced to a stop-and-go toll road, even as in recent years speech on social media has become markedly less free.
The notion of shackling the internet to fit copyright demands most creators are not making – essentially shoving the information-freedom genie back in the bottle – has drawn opposition from internet royalty, including Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web himself. Some 70 online pioneers signed a letter warning the legislation turns the web into “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”
User-generated content platforms, including Reddit, Twitch, Pornhub and Wikipedia, staged protests against their impending doom, blacking their landing pages for a day, while tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across Europe.
“Dozens of MEPs are undecided on how to vote,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation tweeted, highlighting the “Save Your Internet” campaign it has vowed to fight to the bitter end. “Everyone is against it: artists, small businesses, big businesses, the Internet’s creators, and over 5 million people who signed the petition to stop the censorship machine it would create,” the group said.
It’s hard to find supporters for the restrictive provision outside of member governments and wealthy copyright-holding corporations. “Such sweeping pressure for pre-publication filtering is neither a necessary nor proportionate response to copyright infringement online,” lamented David Kaye, UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression.Recording industry groups IMPALA, Association of Independent Music, Dutch Collecting Society for Music Works, and International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers have united to cheer the legislation on. Their fortunes were made before the internet, and will continue even if the internet is crippled with regulations.