Copyright

E.U. Passes Censorship-Inducing Online Copyright Regulations

Online platforms will be subjected to a costly, easily-abused system that will likely pull down legal content.

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Copyright
Mtkang / Dreamstime.com

Despite many, many warnings from technology companies and scholars that they were going to wreck the internet, European Union lawmakers have passed a host of new regulations greatly expanding online copyright enforcement demands.

Last week the European Parliament approved a heavily amended version of the European Copyright Directive by a vote of 438 to 226. Tech companies and digital activists have been warning all summer that this will demolish online sharing in order to serve the financial interests of entertainment and media companies.

Two parts of the bill, Articles 11 and 13, have drawn the most fire. Article 11 has been derisively described as a "link tax." It would give media outlets the power to demand licenses (and therefore charge fees) for sharing even small snippets of content from news stories, even just preview images or a couple of sentences. Scholars have warned that this could have a devastating effect on information sharing in education and science, and on sites like Wikipedia. This section has been amended to allow for hyperlinks to other pages, but Cory Doctorow notes that the law is still vague about what constitutes a link. In Germany and Spain, which passed similar laws, simply linking to news stories was forbidden without paying the licensing fee. (The laws also completely failed to help media outlets make money. Indeed, they lost even more readers)

But most of the attention is on Article 13, which forces online platforms to create an automated database-centered system of content filtering to try to block copyrighted content from being uploaded to the internet. Many countries (including the United States) have laws that can be used to compel online platforms to take down copyrighted content. This is different. Article 13 demands that platforms must implement technology that prevents copyrighted material from being uploaded in the first place.

To say this is a potential censorship nightmare is to overlook the censorship nightmare we're already in online. Also highlighted by Doctorow was the very telling experience of a German music professor who attempted to upload recordings of classical music to YouTube. These performances are now in the public domain, but the professor discovered that they were getting tripped up by YouTube's automated ContentID system and immediately getting taken down because they allegedly matched copyright-protected works.

The professor had to appeal each and every takedown. The appeals were accepted and his videos were reposted. But they never should have been taken down in the first place.

YouTube is owned by Google. This is not some cheap filter like you have at the local library to stop people from looking at porn: The ContentID system cost $60 million to build. And neither side is happy with it, claiming that it's either not catching enough copyrighted materials or, as in our professor's case, blocking content that it should not.

Article 13 is going to require pretty much every major site to follow in YouTube's footsteps, even though the video giant can't get it right. We're not just talking about Facebook and Twitter here. Even dating sites are going to have check the images you upload of yourself against a database. Even Etsy is going to have to make sure those are actually your craft products you're trying to sell.

It's not just the major movie studios and the record industry who will be able to throw works into this database and claim ownership. Anybody will be able to. Doctorow notes the enormous potential for abuse and censorship:

But under Article 13, everyone gets to play wholesale censor, and every service has to obey their demands: just sign up for a "rightsholder" account on a platform and start telling it what may and may not be posted. Article 13 has no teeth for stopping this from happening: and in any event, if you get kicked off the service, you can just pop up under a new identity and start again.

We already know that politicians and government representatives have been abusing copyright enforcement systems to take down online criticism. Businesses and companies abuse the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) to try to censor videos criticizing their products.

Fortunately, there are still more negotiations to go, and another vote by the European Parliament in 2019. Maybe that will give lawmakers the opportunity to actually take a look at the bill they passed. As Quartz has noted, somebody snuck in an amendment that appears to block people from filming sports events and using the footage for their own purposes. It turns out the parliament member responsible for crafting the legislation in the first place didn't even know it was there.

NEXT: In Constitution Day Speech, Betsy DeVos Says 'Government Muscle' Is Not the Answer to the Campus Free Speech Problem

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  1. It’s Europe. Who cares what they think.

    1. They didn’t impose any tariffs, so who cares?

    2. If you honestly think this won’t impact you, then I hope you are the first sent to the copyright gulag.

      1. They say it’s kind of my thing.

        1. Why won’t you take this super seriously, Fist?

          1. I recently got the copyright for one of my Mohammed cartoons. I could have fun with this.

            >:D

  2. What a fucking travesty. Bunch of old idiots who have no idea how a computer works, how the internet works, or what spurred the growth of the greatest success story of our lifetime (the commercial internet), voting on ridiculous regulations to protect certain industry players over others.

    All of the tech companies should just show a middle finger and turn off all access for Europe.

    1. They may have to. One of the provisions is for fines up to 4% of global turnover — revenue!. Why would any company risk such fines which are likely to be more than all profits from the EU? Google has already been hit with a couple of billion dollar fines — I don’t think it would take much for them to just pull all corporate offices out of the EU and institute geolocation bans.

    2. We already know that politicians and government representatives have been abusing copyright enforcement systems to take down online criticism
      That is the sole reason for this. Prevent criticism of politicians. If they can fine a few evil corporashunz too, so much the better.

  3. (I think I have the right tab this time)

    I hope they do pass it. The inevitable train wreck might (*might*) be a salutary lesson. And if (likely) not, then they will be emboldened to pass an even worse train wreck.

    Cory Doctorow linked to an interesting dystopia called All Rights Reserved, where the copyright barons have run amuck and everything you say or write or communicate in any fashion (shrugs, hand gestures, mouthing words) is subject to royalties. The usual failings of dystopian novels, but it’s fun and a good read. The only preaching comes way at the end in a victory speech.

  4. No wonder Europe is a Third World country.

  5. These are without a doubt the most insane government regulations I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely flabbergasting, beyond anything I would have ever thought the most idiotic nanny stater could have come up with in their most fevered dreams.

    1. You are going to have to do something about you lack of imagination. I suggest powerful drugs.

  6. You reap what you sow.

    There is no money in recognizing human rights.

    EVERY time we let the government or a private entity subjugate anyone’s best interest to make money, we are sowing seeds designed to keep the elite in power while strangling our rights.

    You weren’t expecting that those in power we’re going to let it slip through their fingers on social media, were you?

    We need to declare the internet a public place so it can be protected as such. As such, anyone with a soapbox, website, cannot restrict content beyond that which applies to speech in public.

  7. But they still have open borders and managed trade. Surely that’s more important

    1. But they still have open borders and managed trade.

      And we can be sure that gun violence won’t get out of hand.

      1. Europeans like to see power change hands in a bloodless coup.

  8. You can’t have true socialism without censorship.
    Otherwise all the little people might start thinking for themselves.

    1. Can we stop the socialism bashing? That’s so not libertarian

  9. EU statists (but I repeat myself) are still not over the demise of Minitel, and dream of a state-run internet.

  10. 1990s: the internet can’t be regulated, it’s the dream of free human communication realized!

    Today: Rules for the internet, page 1 of 12,943,856

  11. Question: Does this mean we can upload hosts of copyrighted material onto certain websites and those websites will then be charged and forced to pull the material?

    I don’t see any chance that will be misused by hackers or internet trolls. Nope, no chance of that whatsoever.

    What good are libertarian beliefs if they result in absolute fascism, one might ask, but Reason will never provide an answer.

    1. No onewould do that, it’s against the law. Nobody does things that are against the law. That’s why we have lawz. Lots and lots of lawz.

      1. It doesn’t appear to be illegal for the poster, but rather it’s illegal for the platform. The poster just has to figure out how to evade the filter, which appears to be super simple.

    2. I couldn’t have said it better than this.

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=C-dsVHLuRRs

    3. DCDOS: Distributed Copyright Denial Of Service.

    4. No, it doesn’t mean that, BYODB. But you do raise an important point well worth a few remarks in reply.

      After copyright is again taken seriously?and the “steal everything” business model goes by the boards as a result?two useful improvements will happen. First, web sites will begin to compete on the same basis legacy media still do?on the quality of their contents. Second, when that change is in place, publishers will once again be reading everything before they publish it?if for no other reason, because copyright gives content value, and publishing swill reduces that value, not just for the swill, but for everything associated with it.

      A third critically important advantage could then be had more readily. Enforcement against defamation could be reclaimed from the now-burgeoning demands to use government criminal charges?which are a censorship disaster already in progress?and restored instead to the traditional method of private civil action, getting the government out of the censorship business.

      Libertarians, at least, ought to be cheering copyright on the internet, not condemning it. It’s all about property rights, more free market, more liberty, and less government.

      And of course, after platforms are set up to operate under editorial control, the hacks you suggest will be far harder to accomplish, vanishingly rare, instantly noticed, and easily defeated?in short, not worth doing.

  12. But under Article 13, everyone gets to play wholesale censor, and every service has to obey their demands: just sign up for a “rightsholder” account on a platform and start telling it what may and may not be posted. Article 13 has no teeth for stopping this from happening: and in any event, if you get kicked off the service, you can just pop up under a new identity and start again.

    Meh … we only have so many hours. We have to fight for freedom strategically. Let is pass. Give it a few months to be the established law with precedents you can cite. Then rally a dozen keyboard warriors to keep listing paragraphs from the works of Carl Marx and Mohammed as their copyrighted works in the database until people spreading communism and Islam become paralyzed by the flaw. Within a year of starting that campaign, the EU will repeal the law.

  13. Fuck you EU

    Stick your fucking rules and fucking regulations and what fucking have you and stick them all up your fucking ass hole you collectivist ass clown ass hole ass hats.

    1. This exactly.

      I hope this blows up in their faces and the Internet there goes more or less dark, crashing their economies. It will be fun to watch the public reaction towards these assholic officials.

      Hey EU nannies: remember how Mussolini met his end?

    2. Word. This is 1984 by other means. Horrific.

  14. “We have to pass the law to find out what’s in it.”

    Nancy and the Plastiques…

  15. Time to just cut the Transatlantic cables and be done with it. We’ll run our functional internet over here, and Europe can get its wet dream of a network suddenly devoid of American-based tech firms, just itching for European companies to fill the void and fail under their regulation.

  16. I wonder how many Net Neutrality folks are going to scream over this one? Also, this is only slightly different than many of the Chinese ideas of control of the internet, isn’t it?

  17. A largely un-elected, unaccountable group of technocrats and authoritarians running a massive super government. They trample peoples’ rights, pass insane laws and screw up everything they touch.

    Who could’ve possibly seen this coming? Except, you know, anyone who has EVER read a history book.

    This may get interesting when Google and Facebook decide it isn’t worth a few billion dollars worth of fines every few months to keep operating there.

    These jack-bags in the EU are forgetting the number one rule of authoritarianism. If you want to keep the peasants from revolting, you had best keep the Google-bread and Facebook-circuses flowing.

    1. This may get interesting when Google and Facebook decide it isn’t worth a few billion dollars worth of fines every few months to keep operating there.

      That’s what European publishers are hoping for; they can’t compete with Google or Facebook, but they can create their own third-rate alternatives when they kill the competition through laws.

    2. Thomas, back in Roman times, wasn’t it customary for the government to pay for the bread and circuses by taxing the folks with money?or getting the money by plunder?and then bestowing the largess? Do you see how that might work differently than licensing all the peasants to steal everything in sight, and calling that bread and circuses?

      Ironically, this thread is guaranteed to turn out large numbers of outraged commenters who in other contexts opine about the constitutional wisdom of a system designed to restrain the mob. But in this context, it’s going to be all mob, all the time.

  18. The laws also completely failed to help media outlets make money. Indeed, they lost even more readers

    Note the non-sequitur. Money does not equal readers, especially if most of the readers only want to read what they get for free. And face it, that’s today’s internet. But the content has to come from somewhere, and “steal everything,” is not a business model.

    Give it some time. If the objective really is to restore vitality to customary media?which would be a great objective?you won’t see that happen overnight. People accustomed to feeling entitled to stolen content aren’t going to get used to paying for what they want until they become convinced that’s the only way to get it.

    Wrecking traditional media by stealing all its content and giving it away has not been one of the internet’s legitimate advantages. I can see by the comments already posted that this won’t be popular. Doesn’t make it less true. Or show that a fix isn’t necessary.

    1. Give it some time. If the objective really is to restore vitality to customary media buggy whip makers?which would be a great objective?you won’t see that happen overnight.

      FTFY

      But the content has to come from somewhere, and “steal everything,” is not a business model.

      Neither is “hire a bunch of arrogant and ignorant pricks and have them create lousy, tedentious, self-serving propaganda and content that doesn’t stand up to basic fact-checking”, which is the current business model.

      Traditional media corporations are as dead as film cameras, compact cassette tapes, and leaded gasoline. Good riddance.

      1. Mark22, there are legions of internet information consumers who think the web created the information they rely on. You may be one of them. But it isn’t true. Overwhelmingly, the useful information on the web, and especially almost all the information about government and public affairs, was created by traditional media, and then appropriated without compensation by web platforms for delivery to you. Without traditional media, you and everyone else wouldn’t have a clue what has been going on.

        Note also, your critique, if we can call it that, of traditional media, is not in any way a reply to my criticism that the present internet business model won’t sufficiently nourish content creation. It’s just a subject change. Maybe you don’t have a reply.

        1. Who compensated buggy manufacturers?

          1. Rob, your comment supposes a situation in which the internet enabled a better system for content creation than customary media had, and then disrupted the customary media using those improvements. That isn’t what happened.

            What has happened, is that the internet has failed utterly to deliver a business model which can support the cost of, for instance, news gathering. To compensate, internet platforms have resorted to stealing news reported by legacy media, and using it as a cost-free basis for monetizing other stuff, like clickbait. Alas, the ad sales that model generates have also been stolen from legacy media, without in any way becoming a means to replace critical information legacy media previously delivered. And in some instances, still deliver?thus enabling still-continued erosion of the legacy media business model.

            But of late, the legacy media have been looking peaked. When they die out, and the internet still hasn’t got a workable business model to replace them, by what means will citizens inform themselves about public affairs? The very notion of an informed citizenry might simply vanish. That’s what internet fans commenting here seem to be cheering for. Maybe they should think it over. Maybe ask themselves which internet web sites initially researched and wrote the facts in news stories they read about Hillary, Trump, Kavanaugh, etc.

            1. If your premise is correct then I see your point. But this law is still not the answer. I don’t see how it addresses the problem you raise.

              1. Rufus, please see my reply above, to BYOBD. If that doesn’t answer your questions, tell me what still concerns you, and I will try to respond.

            2. People will always need to know the truth about the world around them.

              Mainstream media is already obsolete. Much of what they deliver is partisan fake news and propaganda. Responsible for all bias and wars. People don’t naturally want to kill each other.

              The successful internet news media model will be uncensored and interactive with a minimal fee for use. Competitively.

              When an issue is covered, citizen members can post video evidence that can be refuted by others. Still others can question. The result, a big enough picture to expose the truth. People will have to think.

              The demand to criminalize lying will only increase.

              1. Any demand to criminalize lying is likewise an invitation to a censorship disaster. If that kind of demand is something you favor, you had better think it over.

                On the other hand, if you offer that as a caution, then you ought to note, and be concerned about, the fact that demands of that sort are being fueled now by existing internet business models. It’s one of the most pressing reasons to oppose those business models, and demand their reform.

                1. Why do you think lying is already a crime in court? Do you think courts would be more effective at discerning the truth, required for justice, if everyone lies?

                  Our speech is already illegal where it causes harm. You can’t legallt yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, and you can’t legally encourage people to do violence. Lying causes harm by misleading people to make decisions they wouldn’t if they knew the truth.

                  As you may be able to recognize, I have given this much logical scrutiny. Criminalizing lying represents our single greatest potential step forward in social justice. It has only been enabled with recent recording and data storage technology.

                  We are on the precipice of eliminating corruption everywhere.

  19. Despite many, many warnings from technology companies and scholars that they were going to wreck the internet, European Union lawmakers have passed a host of new regulations greatly expanding online copyright enforcement demands.

    They’re only wrecking the Internet for Europeans. And, frankly, what difference at this point does it make whether a continent run by authoritarians, socialists, and fascists wrecks its Internet?

  20. Freedom isnt free.

    American business people were already hurt by pre-Trump trade restrictions.

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