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The Problem with the EU’s Copyright Directive

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The Problem with the EU’s Copyright Directive

Alex Kim, Staff Writer

A new controversial Internet copyright directive is in the house, and while the ideas presented in it seem benign, there is much to unpack beneath the surface. Back in September of this year, the European Union (EU) voted on and approved a directive containing 17 articles, with Article 11 and 13 being the most substantial. The former is better known as “link tax,” which requires “online platforms to purchase a license to link out to other sites or quotes from articles.” The latter is an idea pitched by certain figures in the entertainment industry that makes online platforms create “crowdsourced databases of ‘copyrighted materials’ and then block users from posting anything that matched the contents of those databases.”

The directive’s intent is to achieve a fairer and more balanced network. The legislation explains that because the Internet has become a sort of hub for the access and distribution of copyrighted content, big companies and platforms such as Google and Facebook make large amounts of money while the original content-creatorswriters, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and moremake relatively little in comparison. In addition, they have little control of their work and much difficulty enforcing the rights to their content. The new amendments plan to change that. However, while many agree that this is an issue that should be addressed, most believe that this is the wrong approach.

The current version of the copyright directive is flawed and could end up worsening the situation. First, Article 11 is quite vague, and interpretations are wide and varied. Although it says that it would have larger sites like Google News pay the original publishers to have their articles or snippets of their articles on their platforms, it is unclear how this could be enforced. How much of the article would need to be included? And while the article states that “mere hyperlinks which are accompanied by individual words” do not need to be paid for, how many words would have to be included? Also, since most links need to be accompanied and explained with more than a couple individual words, the exception doesn’t count for much. In addition, “legitimate private and non-commercial use of press publications by individual users” are said to be exempt from the fees, so users sharing links on social media do not seem to be an issue, but this only raises more questions as to how much following and influence one must have to be exempt.

In all, critics are concerned that Article 11 could take away the freedom of sharing stories and noted that in the past, versions of this amendment failed to achieve its goal. In 2014, Spain passed a law that resulted in Google shutting down its news aggregator and smaller, local aggregators collapsing from the inability to pay the fees. Similarly, in Germany 2013, Google dropped all publishers that did not allow their content to be shared freely. In both cases, overall online traffic dropped severely, and it can be concluded that this is not the right approach for the directive.

Furthermore, Article 13 is a much more complicated matter. Dubbed the “upload filter” and comically, the “meme ban,” the order calls for sites such as Youtube and Facebook to scan every piece of content before it is posted to check for copyrighted material. There are several issues to this, and it is not as simple as it seems. The article refers to technology that will check all uploads against a database of copyrights, but as of now, no such filter or technology exists that is accurate enough to be proved effective. Upload filters can make millions of mistakes, and the reason this article is called the “meme ban” is that critics wonder, for example, if someone makes a reaction GIF from a movie, how could the filter judge that the meme is just a parody? It is not probable to have the ability to distinguish this. There are already certain types of filters such as YouTube’s Content ID that have been shown to make several mistakes such as when it took down a video because of the birds chirping in the background. So for the technology of Article 13 to be well-implemented, it would require an incredible amount of time and money as well as an impeccable source code. Still, it is unlikely to be a successful judge of copyrighted content.

As of now, nothing has been set. Even though this news hasn’t caught fire like Net Neutrality had, and it does not directly involve the U.S., it is still an important subject to follow, because if it does pass, the Internet as we know it could be changed drastically not only for large aggregators and content creators but also for us individual online users, especially if the EU’s amendments continue to influence the rest of the world. There is still a long way to go on the discussions revolving the directive, so while it is unlikely to not pass the final vote, we can still hope that the member states can help mitigate the effects.


Photo courtesy of BBC.COM

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The Problem with the EU’s Copyright Directive