Internet

Forget Net Neutrality: The E.U. Seems Determined to Destroy the Internet

A poorly written proposal to expand copyright claims could potentially decimate online sharing of information.

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Broken computer
Vladimir Zhuravlev / Dreamstime.com

Digital free speech and access activists are raising alarms that new European Union regulations under consideration will lead to massive internet censorship and a costly enforcement system that could crush innovation and competition.

It's all about online copyright enforcement and the harsh measures that content creators like media outlets and entertainment companies want the European Union to adopt in order to try to stop the uncontrolled spread of their works. So far it seems that the European Union is agreeing with the big dogs. Last week the European Parliament's Legislative Affairs Committee voted to advance a "Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market."

That inscrutably innocuous name for legislation hides a far-reaching proposal that has two components that are causing heartburn for organizations like Creative Commons (devoted to helping people more freely share content online) and the digital activists of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Article 11 will grant media outlets he authority to require anybody potentially excerpting even just snippets of their content to pay them a fee or get a license first, greatly expanding how much content is covered under copyright law. We're talking about examples like the previews of chunks of text and photos that show up when you share a link on a social media outlet like Twitter or Facebook.

Spain and Germany have previously attempted these kind of regulations at the behest of entrenched media outlets trying to protect their turf as the internet disrupts their revenue models. In Spain, the attempt to use copyright as some sort of link tax backfired terribly, prompting Google to respond by dumping Spanish media outlets from news searches. It did not open up new revenues of income for Spanish media outlets but actually reduced access. Whatever the financial solution to media disruption might be, it's certainly not trying to nickle-and-dime people for links.

A pack of more than 160 scholars sent a letter to the E.U. warning against the passage of Article 11, saying the impact would be to "likely impede the free flow of information that is of vital importance to democracy." The transaction costs of sharing information would be greatly increased and this would end up blowing back on "journalists, photographers, citizen journalists and many other non-institutional creators and producers of news, especially the growing number of freelancers."

But the problems of Article 11 are small potatoes compared to the potential impacts of Article 13. In the United States, we have the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which exempts online platforms from liability for copyright infringement for content posted by third-parties as long as they take this content down when copyright holders request it.

The DMCA has already resulted in a lengthy history of horrible censorship in practice, as the takedown request system gets abused to shutter fair use of content and parodies and to censor criticism.

Article 13 is the DMCA on steroids. Rather than waiting for takedown demands, Article 13 would require platforms that allow users to post and upload content to automate a system of filtering out material that has been submitted to a database as copyrighted. How would an automated system be able to determine whether copyrighted material is being published legally? The answer is that it probably won't do a good job, and that's a huge cause for concern. Timothy Vollmer at Creative Commons warns that this will have significant consequences for online speech:

Article 13 will limit freedom of expression, as the required upload filters won't be able to tell the difference between copyright infringement and permitted uses of copyrighted works under limitations and exceptions. It puts into jeopardy the sharing of video remixes, memes, parody, and code, even works that include openly licensed content.

While some might look forward to a word without memes, there are some serious, serious problems here in that the punishment will fall now on platforms because the system is stacked against them. Cory Doctorow at EFF warns how it could blow back against sites like Wikipedia:

Article 13 punishes any site that fails to block copyright infringement, but it won't punish people who abuse the system. There are no penalties for falsely claiming copyright over someone else's work, which means that someone could upload all of Wikipedia to a filter system (for instance, one of the many sites that incorporate Wikpedia's content into their own databases) and then claim ownership over it on Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, and everyone else would be prevented from quoting Wikipedia on any of those services until they sorted out the false claims. It will be a lot easier to make these false claims that it will be to figure out which of the hundreds of millions of copyrighted claims are real and which ones are pranks or hoaxes or censorship attempts.

Article 13 also leaves you out in the cold when your own work is censored thanks to a malfunctioning copyright bot. Your only option when you get censored is to raise an objection with the platform and hope they see it your way—but if they fail to give real consideration to your petition, you have to go to court to plead your case.

Now think about the costs for any sort of internet start-up, or even an existing smaller company, which "provide[s] to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users," that they will need to pay to comply with these rules. Just as Section 11 entrenches the control of media information distribution to a small group of established companies, Section 13 will further entrench control over online content sharing with the biggest companies who can afford to absorb and automate the costs of compliance. Edima, the trade organization that represents online companies, has a massive chart showing who could be affected by Section 13. It includes dating apps and sites, meaning they'd have to run all your pictures through a database to make sure you aren't pretending to be Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johannson online. They could get sued if they don't catch you!

When the European Union adopted expansive and expensive online data privacy regulations, observers warned that rather than reining in the influence of tech giants like Google and Facebook, it would actually allow them to strengthen their control of online spaces. And that's exactly what's happening. Those tech giants have the money and the lawyers to deal with the complex, confounding regulations. Others in the tech sector are not so fortunate.

Both of these articles, despite extremely loud opposition from online experts and tech companies, passed the committee in very split votes. So at least some members have a sense of the potentially terrible consequences. There's still a lengthy and complex negotiation process to move the directive through the European Parliament. That body is likely to vote next on July 4 and could potentially make changes if there's enough opposition.

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  1. Shut down the internet in Europe. Fuck that place.

    I hear that Africa is coming into style anyway.

    1. Yes. African people are a damned delight, and I want more of their shitposting on Twitter. We don’t need no more Belgians.

  2. I concur with the alt text.

    1. The alt-text is meaningless without actual pictures of butts

      1. Shackford, once again, teases the commentariat

        1. He saw us talking about HM earlier. This is just his subtle way to tell us that maybe HM is still here and we just don’t know it…

      2. The alt-text is meaningless without actual pictures of butts

        One butt or two?

        1. You’re good people, mad. Thank you

          1. Why did I click those links?

            1. Yeah, I just hovered over the links, saw “goatse” in the first one and “2girls1cup” in the second and thought better of it.

            2. You knew what you were getting into.

            3. For a more visceral internet-breaking experience, of course.

              I’ve never quite understood what part of (nearly) naked chicks on the internet constitutes ‘broken’.

        2. Why did you not use the actual goatse is my question.

      3. all your butts are belong to us.

      4. It’s a reference to that naked picture of Mrs. Kanye with a wine glass on her butt

  3. It includes dating apps and sites, meaning they’d have to run all your pictures through a database to make sure you aren’t pretending to be Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johannson online. They could get sued if they don’t catch you!

    That’s pretty rough for those of us who are actually dead ringers for Brad Pitt.

    1. Pitt is a dead ringer for me, actually.

      1. I look more like a dead George Clooney myself.

    2. Or Scarlett Johannson.

  4. Will Germany have to have ACTUAL shit in their porn to avoid issues with soft-serve ice cream companies?

    The ability to troll could be epic,

  5. Seriously. The EU are such whiny, dangerous, anti-liberty pains in the asses. F them for all these ‘cookies’ messages’ and compliance emails I’m getting.

    And Google should tell them to shove it up their ass.

    1. Careful, Brussels will hear you

      1. Or Cathy L.

        1. She’s not so bad. I have no idea why she harasses you, though. I’m guessing that she hates Canadians or something. Well, I won’t stand for bigotry toward our neighbor to the North.

          1. Yeah, I bet you will. You Americans and your tariffs and crazy immigration policies.

            Meh. I was once bullied in 3rd grade by a guy who later became a mobster and I stood my ground. So she don’t worry me none. It’s actually cute.

            1. She clearly likes you and doesn’t know how to say it, because all her friends say “boys are icky”.

              1. Boys ARE icky. She didn’t bring no milk or cookies, or nothin’. She came looking for man butt.

              2. She just has to ask. I’m pretty cook with the gals.

                1. cool

                  1. She let me grab her by the pussy, but I politely declined.

                    1. Donald Trump posts on Reason.

                      LIBERTARIAN MOMENT!

  6. Progressive: We should be more like Europe.

    Never mind the fact that Europe gave us Fascism, Communism, and Nazism, or that the most “enlightened” European nations also happen to be the most monochromatic.

    1. Don’t forget both World Wars.

      1. Imperialism/Colonialism

          1. Smallpox is a very niche German porn genre.

            …so I have hear.

            1. Freakshow and other types of sick/disabled/disfigured porn is a very, very upsetting genre. There’s a large subset based on misery and I hate all of it. But BDSM and stuff is pretty light compared to how fucking grim that hole can get.

              1. …and now I have the idea that such porn exists at the front of my mind even though I know that it’s a logical extension of Rule 34. Fuck you, BUCS.

              2. If you haven’t sat back and watched a “pain olympics” video — well, you’re a better person for having not done so.

                1. I googled that and holy balls am I glad I use safesearch.

  7. Slightly OT: It seems like I’ve asked this before, but can somebody more in touch with the blockchain rectify it with GDPR?

      1. What stops someone from dumping a bunch of personal info into the blockchain and then (ab)using a GDPR request to shut down/redact the whole thing?

        I guess it’s hashed so, technically it’s not the personal data. It just seems like the right to be forgotten and the notion of a distributed ledger are fundamentally at odds to me.

        1. I see. That’s a good question. My initial guess would be anything that’s ‘distributed’ and not controlled by a singular entity is beyond the reach of the GDPR.

      2. And, I guess, ultimately what you say below: “Democracy is not a goal of the EU.” or “Democracy, free speech, human rights, personal protection, etc. is not necessarily a goal of this part of the EU right now.”

        It occurs to me that I’m completely unaware of whether Europe collectively remembers or reminisces about the glory of the Web 1.0 days the same way we do?

        1. According to some European critics of the EU, they don’t even remember WWII.

  8. Article 11 will grant media outlets he authority to require anybody potentially excerpting even just snippets of their content to pay them a fee or get a license first, greatly expanding how much content is covered under copyright law.

    Good thing reason doesn’t do Morning/ PM Links anymore.

    1. No. That’s not a good thing. May all the kings of the world come against them, I will still miss the PM links.

    2. Good thing it’s the media outlets and not the commentariat who have to paying for excerpting snippets of content.
      But don’t the links drive clicks to the copyright holders? Shouldn’t they be paying for that incremental traffic?

  9. I wonder if an unintended side-effect of all this will be a return to the old-timey federated internet we had during the days of dialup: A bunch of unkempt dudes at university comp-sci departments running Gopher servers.

  10. A pack of more than 160 scholars sent a letter to the E.U. warning against the passage of Article 11, saying the impact would be to “likely impede the free flow of information that is of vital importance to democracy.”

    With the EU firing back: Democracy is not a goal of the EU.

  11. How will I be able to download the porn if the internets is gone?

    1. Top rack at the convenience store… behind the brown paper.

  12. So how hard can it be to just block all EU web addresses from everything?
    Respond to all requests with a text screen saying “The web will return after you clowns vote out every regulating idiot on the continent and amend you constitution to stop those restrictions from coming back.”.

    1. Vote…
      That’s hilarious

    2. That’s already happening. I’ve seen this:

      451: Unavailable due to legal reasons

      We recognize you are attempting to access this website from a country belonging to the European Economic Area (EEA) including the EU which enforces the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and therefore access cannot be granted at this time. For any issues, contact hostmaster@.com or call 800-.

  13. Article 11 will grant media outlets he authority to require anybody potentially excerpting even just snippets of their content to pay them a fee or get a license first, greatly expanding how much content is covered under copyright law. We’re talking about examples like the previews of chunks of text and photos that show up when you share a link on a social media outlet like Twitter or Facebook.

    Google News hardest hit.

  14. The internet poses a real threat to creators of all kinds of content, not just “the big dogs.” Ask any working musician.

    If I spend $100K to add a room to my house, I own the addition in perpetuity. If I spend the same $100K to write a novel, I lose my ownership of the novel after a few decades. The government takes title and gives my work to humanity. With the advent of the internet, effective title to creative works is challenged as never before.

    This is a complex problem, and a serious one.

    1. If I spend $100K to add a room to my house, I own the addition in perpetuity. If I spend the same $100K to write a novel, I lose my ownership of the novel after a few decades

      Sure, if by “after a few decades” you mean your life plus 70 years, so that you and your estate can coast off of one bit of work for the rest of your lives, if it’s popular enough…

      1. It’s a guy who chose the nickname “llbrich”, which is surprisingly close to “li’l bitch”, which is what he is.

    2. It doesn’t take 100k to write a novel. It just takes a word processor (or even notepad) and time.

    3. Depends. Did you get a permit to do the work? If not then the government might make you destroy the room as punishment for not asking permission.

    4. “”If I spend the same $100K to write a novel, I lose my ownership of the novel after a few decades.””

      Not true. You still own the work. No one is allowed to represent that they wrote it instead of you. All physcial copies of novel you own. You just lose your monopoly privileges. That is all.

      Also, spending $100K to write a novel is pretty stupid.

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