A Brief Explanation of What’s Happening in the EU Regarding the Copyright Directive

Attribution @EuropeanParliament
Attribution @EuropeanParliament

 

For those of you who are not yet up to speed, the European Union (EU) is trying to pass a new copyright law that has caused much controversy across the world wide web. This European copyright proposal, officially known as the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, is Europe’s attempt to merge and synchronize all of the copyright law across all of the member nations in the EU. This would be a major overhaul of the EU copyright law, one in which many people argue would result in a major censorship of the internet.

From individuals and organizations to tech leaders and digital rights activists, all have vocalized their outrage over this copyright directive. Not only is the directive criticized for being vague in regards to what it’s changing and how it will be enforced, but it’s also being criticized for being extremely harsh in two sections, Articles 11 and 13, which critics claim could lead to a significantly closed and restricted internet in the future. Many have explained how this directive could affect the internet in a major way, noting in particular how internet meme culture, which is generally where people use common images to create multiple running jokes, would be significantly harmed by the passage of this directive. Let’s take a brief look at what Article 11 and Article 13 does, and why people are so outraged over them.

Article 13 would require all outline platforms, whether social media, news outlets, etc., to either police and block any users from uploading copyrighted content, or make users of their platform obtain the proper licenses before uploading any copyrighted content. While platforms like Youtube already utilizes a system for this purpose, the technology to do this is extremely expensive and takes several years to build and refine, which would be a monumental burden on smaller platforms that don’t have the audience or the revenue of platforms giants such as Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, etc.

While this upload filtering mandate of Article 13 is targeted mainly at websites that host video and music uploaded by its users, due to its vague wording and open interpretation, it is broad enough to be able to extend to any sort of website that hosts user-uploaded content, from code that is contributed to platforms like Github, all the way to text contributed to a user-edited encyclopedia like Wikipedia.

Article 11, also known as the “link tax” proposal, would create a mandatory copyright fee that would require websites to pay news publishers in exchange for using brief snippets of quoted text as part of a link to the original news article. Article 11 would make the tax an inalienable right, which means that even if they wanted to, news publishers would not be able to waive receiving the tax. Other news sources have stated that a practical effect of this would be that it would become impossible for a news publisher to publish their stories for free use, such as publishers that use Creative Commons licenses with their content. Axel Voss, a German Member of the European Parliament (MEP), proposes that beneficiaries of the link tax should include press agencies, and that libraries should also be responsible for paying link tax fees to publishers for “compensation” for their rental and lending activities.

This copyright directive seems to majorly benefit large publishers, while punishing those who simply use the internet as an open forum for sharing and innovation. Now that the copyright directive has passed through the legal affairs committee, it must now be voted on by the European Parliament, which is made up of 751 members, either sometime in July or when EU lawmakers return from their summer recess this September. If it passes through Parliament, it would then have to be approved by each member state of the EU through the Council of the EU, before finally returning to the European Parliament for a final vote in either December 2018 or January 2019.

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