On June 20, the E.U. Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) approved a copyright reform to be up for negotiation that could impose strict censorship on anything that is consumed, created or shared on the internet in Europe. After the approval, the reform is now passed on to the E.U. parliament which will vote whether to continue the process of negotiating the bill on July 4. According to critics, the copyright directive is, if implemented, arguably even more damaging than the net neutrality repeal that the U.S. faces.
What makes the bill dangerous?
Under Article 13, all websites will be required to use highly error-prone upload filters that automatically remove any content that the algorithms detect to be similar to copyrighted content. While the aim of the bill is to prevent copyright infringement, these bots can’t distinguish between copyright infringement and content shared under fair use laws. Therefore, they would remove a vast number of internet freedoms and cultural expressions. The censorship machines could possibly ban memes as they mostly use copyrighted images and gifs under the terms of free use, especially since many of them originate from TV shows and films. That means that one would need a paid license in order to share a meme or gif.
These censorship machines could also drastically put an end to fandom culture since they would prevent internet users from uploading and viewing fanfictions, fan art, fandom related images, edits and gif-sets. As if that isn’t enough, Article 13 also threatens to prevent music remixes, parodies and gaming live streams from being uploaded and would greatly restrict blog, discussion and code sharing platforms. Therefore, most countries in Europe will be cut off from fandom communities.
The bill, in general, has also been critiqued for “blocking the free circulation of knowledge” as put by Vox Scientia. 169 European academics write in an open letter that the bill “would likely impede the free flow of information that is of vital importance to democracy.”
For example, it could obstruct the work of researchers and journalists since it will prevent the use of text and data mining. Another risk is that it could prevent people from posting external links and citations, particularly links or snippets of content from news platforms where users would need to acquire licenses from publishers. That means that the algorithms could block anyone from, for example, posting a tweet that links to a news article without asking the news publisher for permission. Since a license requires that the platform where the news is shared pays the news publisher, it would hinder the spreading of information and reduce the views of news outlets if the platforms aren’t willing to pay for the fee.
In general, the bill will make it really hard for websites like Reddit, Twitter, Medium, Pinterest and Wordpress to function. According to critics, smaller sites may have to shut down completely within the E.U. region since many won’t be capable of maintaining complex filter systems. In an open letter signed in June, 70 Internet experts such as Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the world wide web) and Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia) strongly opposed the reform and argued that it is “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.”
So is this the end? What will happen now?
The approval has set the process in motion, but it does definitely not mean that it’s all over. First, the European Parliament will vote to confirm whether the mandate will be negotiated or not. If they vote yes, the bill will be negotiated through July and October while legal linguists check that it coheres with existing E.U. laws and translate it into all E.U. languages. Finally, the parliament will vote on whether to ultimately implement the copyright directive in December or January. If it is passed, the process of implementing it will, however, be messy and could take a few years.
How can I prevent this bill from being put into effect?
There is still much hope left so taking certain actions could truly make a difference. Right now, it is urgent to prevent the European Parliament from voting yes on July 4. I encourage you to take these actions even if you live outside of Europe or in a country that isn’t part of the E.U. Here is a list of steps to take in order to prevent the copyright directive from being implemented:
- Contact the European Parlament members here. The website also provides several other ways to take actions.
- Sign this online petition against it. The petition is created by Save The Internet and currently has close to half a million signatures.
- Raise awareness about the issue. Spread information about the bill on social media platforms and link to this article or a website that concerns it, such as the one listed above. The more people are informed about it and protest it, the less likely it is that the bill will be put into effect.
And lastly, don’t panic. There is still a high chance that the Internet will be saved and we can expand that chance by working together.