If you follow the news of the tech world, you’ve probably heard about the controversial new European Union copyright directive. You may have seen people saying that the new directive represents “the end of the Internet” or the “end of memes,” especially in reference to Article 11 and Article 13. It sounds pretty scary, doesn’t it?
Nevertheless, before we start running around in panic, we need to understand what these articles actually say and what are their possible implications for us, and that’s why we wrote this post! In it, we are going to explain what Article 13 is all about, what it proposes and what the reasons behind so much controversy. Let’s go?
Where does Article 13 come from?
The (in)famous Article 13 is part of the new proposal for the regulation of copyright in the European Union, the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.
Said it in a simple manner, it attempts to bring copyright laws into the digital age. The goal of this directive is to make large platforms and social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Youtube, more responsible for the content they available in them, mainly to make them help fight the dissemination of material that violates copyright rules.
Explaining this better: currently, those responsible for monitoring whether copyright is being violated or not are its own holders (musicians, writers, authors, and so on). To give an example, imagine that a musician finds out that his creation is being used in a Youtube video, but without giving him or her the due credits and compensation. It is up to him or her, the right holder, to contact the platform to ask for the video to be removed, and to eventually even sue the person who used his material. The platform, thus, legally speaking, is not directly responsible for the content that its users make available.
The problem is that it is virtually impossible for a creator, especially if he or she does not have a lot of resources, to monitor ALL platforms and social networks in which his or her material may be distributed illegally. The new directive proposal, recognizing this difficulty, shifts this responsibility for monitoring to the platforms responsible for this monitoring.
Why is the directive causing so much controversy?
At first, this seems to be a good idea, right? Making large companies help to protect the copyright of creators sounds at least reasonable…
Even if, at first sight, the proposal seems interesting, it has many issues, which we will explain below.
We asked Avery Schrader, the CEO of Modash (a tool for marketers to collaborate with and find influencers on instagram and twitch), his opinion on how this effects social media content creators:
“Article 13 heavily impacts social media creators on social media platforms. These creators have built a massive and valuable industry which not protected or represented by a major association. Media corporations and record labels have trade associations and major lobbying. This thing threatens to cause serious damage or completely destroy the livelihood of tens of thousands of European content creators.”
Decreasing competition and innovation
One of the key issues of the new policy is that it must apply to ALL platforms that make content available online.
While a giant such as Youtube has the resources to develop tools and methods to comply with it, even using artificial intelligence-based detection software, startups or small businesses will not be able to do so. The risk, then, is that the cost for smaller platforms to operate will become so high that competition will cease to exist, with companies that are already large becoming even more monopolistic.
As a result, everybody loses, as there will be much less diversity in the network, and innovative ideas may end up not being executed if their creators do not have substantial funds.
A wave of lawsuits and censorship
What is more, since copyright holders will be able to sue the platform DIRECTLY (which is A LOOOOT easier than suing some unknown violator who might live on the other side of the world), it is possible that people will begin filing THOUSANDS of actions against them.
What is feared is that, as a way to protect themselves against such lawsuits, the platforms will decide to filter the uploaded content to ensure that there is no infringement of copyright. Depending on how the situation develops, they could even implement a kind of prior “censorship” to protect themselves – which would do away with the freedom we now know, in which anyone can post and publish anything.
People who say that Article 13 will be the end of memes, for example, refer to this. Although memes are an integral part of internet culture and are seen almost as a collective asset, they were created by someone, and that person holds a copyright over it. This is even clearer when the meme’s base is a movie or a tv show, or even a variation of some famous character. It may be that platforms, for fear of being sued, will no longer allow for them to be shared.
Several leading names in technology, such as Tim Berners-Lee (the creator of the World Wide Web) and Jimmy Wales (founder of Wikipedia), signed in June 2018 an open letter to the European Parliament saying that Article 13 poses a threat the Internet. According to them, “by requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”
Is Article 13 already applicable?
No, and its future is still uncertain. The revised version of the original text did not reach consensus in the European Council on the 18th, being rejected by 11 countries.
In any case, even if the directive is adopted, it will only set the parameters for each European country, which in turn has to change its own internal legislation – that is, even if it becomes valid, it may take some time before it is actually implemented.
See also part II, in which we will talk about Article 11 and its impact.
Interested in other copyright issues? So don’t miss our posts on copyright and blockchain, copyright on books, how online content producers can protect themselves from plagiarism and blockchain uses in the music industry.