Censorship

Hide Those Memes, Folks! Europe Passes Massive Online Copyright Changes That Will Lead to Censorship

Do you have a license to link to that story? Will your sexy Tinder photo get confused with a celebrity's?

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Censorship
KPixMining / Dreamstime.com

Members of the European Union's parliament ignored dire warnings that they're heading down a path toward massive online censorship and have passed legislation that will hold online platforms financially liable for copyright violations by users and would require search engines and social media platforms to get licenses from media companies to share even snippets of their content.

Today E.U. leaders passed the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, 348 to 274. The ambiguous title conceals sweeping regulations pushed by European media and entertainment outlets intended to increase their authority to police their copyright content online. But the sheer breadth of the regulations have tech platforms and online speech activists deeply worried. More than 100,000 protesters gathered in Germany over the weekend to try to keep two parts of the directive from passing.

Article 11 will require any online information sharing platform to get a license from a media outlet before sharing any of its content. How much "sharing" has to take place before the license demand is triggered is unclear, upending concepts of "fair use" and potentially making it all but impossible to share news stories unless the platform has gotten a license (and potentially paid a fee) to the media outlet or content producer.

So, for example, if Facebook wants to continue showing an excerpt of a Reason story whenever somebody posts a link to us on their wall, Facebook would have to seek out a license from Reason to allow the social media site to show more than a link and maybe a headline, and even that's not sure. There's no opt-out process. Reason cannot declare that anybody can share whatever they want of our stuff.

Everybody from Google representatives to academic experts have warned that this will hurt small and new publishers the most, because online platforms are not likely to go through the effort to seek out and certainly aren't going to be willing to pay for the "privilege" of sharing a sentence or two and a picture. And that means established and larger media outlets will be the beneficiaries of this rule, assuming there are any beneficiaries at all. Google has warned that search results that comply with Article 11 will likely result in fewer visitors to these media sites, not more money in licensing fees for the publishers.

But Article 13 has the potential for some seriously disastrous censorship outcomes online. Article 13 essentially says that online platforms must prevent users from uploading copyrighted content and take responsibility for any such content that is uploaded. Period. Any platform that's been around for more than three years or earns more than $11 million a year can be held financially responsible for any copyrighted content that makes it onto its site.

This incredibly broad, incredibly vague demand will likely lead to the big sites using various upload filters and automated identification systems that—to be blunt—have historically done a terrible job at identifying copyrighted content. And those are the big tech companies like YouTube. This will be an extremely expensive, possibly impossible request for many smaller online platforms. It will lead to massive amounts of censorship due to potential fears of lawsuits. And most certainly there are going to be many, many people on the lookout for opportunities to sue over this. Government officials will likely be looking for opportunities as well; Andrea O'Sullivan noted this morning how the European Union has been using fines against big tech companies as a source of funding. The vagueness of this legislation is likely deliberate

Danny O'Brien at the Electronic Frontier Foundation looks at the likely outcomes as these regulations go into effect:

We can expect media and rightsholders to lobby for the most draconian possible national laws, then promptly march to the courts to extract fines whenever anyone online wanders over its fuzzy lines. The Directive is written so that any owner of copyrighted material can demand satisfaction from an Internet service, and we've already seen that the rightsholders are by no means united on what Big Tech should be doing. Whatever Internet companies and organizations do to comply with twenty-seven or more national laws—from dropping links to European news sites entirely, to upping their already over-sensitive filtering systems, or seeking to strike deals with key media conglomerates—will be challenged by one rightsholder faction or another.

A spokesperson for Google responded that the company has seen improvements in the legislation as the drafting has moved forward but warned "it will still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe's creative and digital economies. The details matter, and we look forward to working with policy makers, publishers, creators and rights holders as EU member states move to implement these new rules."

It may end up eventually being that you'll find your posts being censored by Facebook, and not because you've said something offensive that violates the social media platform's terms, but because Facebook doesn't want to be sued by somebody in Belgium.

That these regulations have passed is again a reminder of how stupid it was for presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to go after Facebook for declining an ad featuring its trademarked logo. Given the knee-jerk response by some government officials in America suggesting they want to try to force social media platforms to carry their messages we may well end up in a situation in which Facebook is legally required to post a message or image in one country, but legally forbidden to do so in another. And it would face huge legal consequences if it cannot do both.

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72 responses to “Hide Those Memes, Folks! Europe Passes Massive Online Copyright Changes That Will Lead to Censorship

  1. I personally hope Google and Facebook finally wake up and smell the sewage, and stop doing all business in the EU.

    Or just pay the massive fines and go out of business, I could deal with that.

    1. Unfortunately, it is probably still profitable for them to keep doing business there.

      1. After this, it may not be worth it.

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    1. No, but it *is* a mess. I’ve been trying to follow along what is happening in Parliament. Good Lord.

      1. This is excellent news. Clearly Europe is building on our own American legal presidents. See, for example, the documentation of our nation’s leading criminal “satire” case at:

        https://raphaelgolbtrial.wordpress.com/

        Hopefully we can soon figure out as many additional techniques as possible for suppressing inappropriate online “creativity” and pass them on to our European partners. The idea that the United States was some kind of beacon for uncensored “internet freedom” and for “freedom of speech,” whatever that means, is certainly outmoded, and should be rapidly forgotten.

        1. You’ve been flogging this dead horse for *years* now.

          I’m just going to start flagging you as spam and suggest everyone else do so.

          1. I would have a ye with my sword, and flog your own hide for many years more. Not only is my cause just, but the meaning of my many contributions has changed and grown with the surrounding circumstances. The European nations are now following the example we’ve carefully set during our anti-Troll campaign, and glory to them all. Hopefully they are reading the blogs of Eugene Volokh too, for never was there a greater spokesman for criminalizing libel in these American states.

            1. Yeah this is the real face of mental illness. It’s not some interesting or compelling narrative, it’s bitterness that just can’t be let go. It’s blind certitude in ones’ own correctness.

              Yeah, buddy, the world sucks a lot. Be glad you didn’t get worse than you did and move on with your life. This is no way to spend what’s (fortunately) left of it.

              1. To each one his own interests, old chap, and you’re free to ignore my comments and move elsewhere; why so much interest? The princess doth protest too much. I take it setting necessary limits on “free speech” and criminalizing libel everywhere in our great nation is not exactly your thing. And by the way, many have accused me of being mad before, but when I returned from my journeys and cast off my arms, everyone was begging me to pick them up again.

  2. Google has warned that search results that comply with Article 11 will likely result in fewer visitors to these media sites, not more money in licensing fees for the publishers.

    This right here is the nut of the problem. The media companies see Google making a ton of ad money off of directing traffic to their sites and think that money should be rightfully theirs. As if without Google telling people their site even exists people would be coming directly to their site. It’s as if Frito Lay wanted to charge grocery stores for the right to display Frito Lay products on the theory that people go to the grocery store specifically to buy Frito Lay products rather than that people buy Frito Lay products because they’re in the grocery store. Let’s see what happens to Frito Lay sales when grocery stores refuse to pay for the right to display their products.

    1. Oh man. Now I’m hungry for oversalted corn chips.

      1. No such thing as over salted.

        1. Salt is a food group, get with the program.

    2. It’s the inverse of how grocery store placement works.
      I suspect the key difference is that grocery store items are rivalrous and substitutable in ways the various media company products aren’t.

      1. All the media companies are interchangable, imo.

      2. No, it’s about the same, I think. The parallels with frito-lay on the salty snacks aisle is spot-on … frito-lay pays the grocery store for aisle space, displays their product, and bids to get rivals pushed into a smaller space. The money they pay is overwhelmed by the money they make selling their product.

        European media is making a mistake in thinking they are the grocery store, instead of the product vying for shelf space. So they see the amount of money google is making from product placement, and from the rest of the store, and think they can just demand some of that cash be diverted to their stale, air-filled unsalted popcorn of news offerings.

    3. After Google is driven out of the EU’s news search business, a government-owned EUgle news search monopoly will be set up in its place. At that point, Eurocrats will recognize that it is ridiculous for EUgle to have to pay news sites for sending traffic their way, and said payments will cease immediately. Instead, news sites that want to be listed will have to send their own payments to the EUgle monopoly.

  3. If only some political group oriented around liberty advocated freedom on a global level and from the top down in a prioritized or strategic manner rather than a faux-borderless, haphazard, lowest-common-denominator type of freedom where Americans are free to use their speech all over the internet as long as it doesn’t violate Canadian or European speech standards.

  4. Just filter out the content in Europe. No need to go full Galts Gulch. Just filter out stuff for Europe.

    “An unelected bureaucracy has decided that we cannot show you this image of a kitten that your friend posted. In order to see this image of a kitten, please exit your jurisdiction and view the content from Africa, Asia, Australia, North or South America, or other civilized continent. Thank you for your patience.”

    1. Nice, but it would probably have to be more like “An unelected bureaucracy has decided that we cannot show you this [deleted] that [deleted] posted….”

    2. I think it’s time to just turn off the internet to Europe. They clearly don’t want it.

  5. The EU member countries can’t create cutting-edge technology, so they lash out by taxing and regulating it as much as possible. It’s decadence, arrogance, and ignorance all rolled up.

    It’s a continent permanently on its six-week summer holiday. I’m glad the Muslim world wants to take it over.

    1. Don’t forget the jealousy. Does jealousy create socialists, or is it just part of the prerequisites?

    2. The EU member countries can’t create cutting-edge technology

      You’re gonna sit here and tell me that the Angry Birds franchise isn’t cutting-edge? I hate to imagine where we would be as a country without revolutionary software companies like Rovio and Mojang.

    3. There are plenty of great entrepreneurs in Europe. I know some. They’ve started tech companies. And in many ways it’s EASIER to start a company in many European countries than in the US. In addition, Europe has some tech companies that DWARF what we have in the US. Firms like Siemens make Google seem tiny.

      But Europe is hobbled by a tall poppy culture. Everyone wants everyone else to be the same. Having old money is good, but making a lot of new money is viewed suspiciously. Many CEOs drive small cars to project the desired image.

      1. Firms like Siemens make Google seem tiny.

        Not by market cap.

      2. Having old money is good, but making a lot of new money is viewed suspiciously.

        That’s because if you’re old money, you probably have some royalty in your background. If not, you’re dirty working class that made good hawking VCRs or something.

    1. Now that’s a gruesome image I won’t be able to erase from my mind…

      1. “If you want a vision of the future, imagine Bernie Sanders dry fucking Elizabeth Warren – forever.”

        – George Orwell. Probably.

        1. I may never get an erection ever again. Thanks. :-/

  6. It would seem a simple enough task to load up some French-website with comments pointing to copyrighted material at German-website and vice-versa. Then sit back and eat popcorn (presuming that no one has a copyright on that).

    1. It would seem a simple enough task to load up some French-website with comments pointing to copyrighted material at German-website and vice-versa. Then sit back and eat popcorn (presuming that no one has a copyright on that).

      A decent point: if you get charged with such a copyright violation, will the details be posted on line?

  7. Google and all other search engines should immediately stop servicing search requests from all EU countries, and just display a statement that access will resume after this law is repealed. And particularly requests from government sites in the EU.

    1. “Due to ongoing efforts to comply with EU regulations your search request is being processed. We expect to have preliminary results for you in 2 to 3 weeks. A full list of results will be available in 6 to 8 weeks. Please enter the following code to access your search results QR56T-UN6TR-3OK8H-F6BBF-XXS3E-FUDIP-SH1T1”

      If I were running it this is what every EU government/official IP address would see.

      1. They’ll just switch to Yandex.

  8. There’s SO many hypotheticals one can create which would violate this law. Seems this effectively shuts down the Internet in Europe. Who would want to assume this type of liability? Good. Fuck those statists.

  9. See PewDiePie and Sargon were the only ones on Youtube really warning against this, but the media hate them, so they ignore it. I’m surprised they haven’t come out in favor of it yet

    Seriously though the ingratitude of all these fucks who don’t know how a god damned computer works, yet will suck the cock of the media and music companies

  10. The Economist has a front-page leader this week about how wise European governments are adopting clever and precedent-setting laws to hold social media companies to account and force them to serve the public interest that America should emulate.

    https://www.economist.com/leaders/ 2019/03/23/why-big-tech-should-fear-europe

    And that magazine still purports to support free trade and free markets.

    1. >> And that magazine still purports to support free trade and free markets.

      Well to be fair, from a European perspective they’re quite reactionary. Anything that isn’t full bore redistributionist is seen as fascist.

    2. I stopped reading The Economist in the early 2000s. They lost the plot.

      1. Same here. I dropped Science for the same reason, and Nature has started down the same road (“Scientists among thousands marching to demand say on Brexit”, “Universities spooked by Trump order tying free speech to grants” right now on their front page; last week had some nonsense about hundreds of thousands of scientists backing up the children’s climate crusade).

  11. Spain tried the link tax on their own. Google stopped linking to Spanish news. Traffic to Spanish sites dropped. Spain dropped the link tax.

  12. The EU are such pains in the asses. So why are they doing this exactly? To combat fake news?

    I also find it oxymoronic people protest against the EU. They sold their sovereignty to it so….you made your choice.

    The EU owns your soul.

    1. They ran out of other people’s money, and are now grasping for other other people’s money.

  13. stupid people need the most attention.

  14. “Everybody from Google representatives to academic experts have warned that this will hurt small and new publishers the most, because online platforms are not likely to go through the effort to seek out and certainly aren’t going to be willing to pay for the “privilege” of sharing a sentence or two and a picture. And that means established and larger media outlets will be the beneficiaries of this rule, assuming there are any beneficiaries at all. Google has warned that search results that comply with Article 11 will likely result in fewer visitors to these media sites, not more money in licensing fees for the publishers.”

    By design. They want control over the flow of information. Zuckerberg cries “please regulate us!”

  15. “By design. They want control over the flow of information”

    Just as they took control of broadcast radio a century ago.

    1. “Just as they took control of broadcast radio a century ago.”

      Copyright has been around a lot longer than that.

  16. The internet is unregulatab… shit.

    1. Oh, it is, as long as it stays agile (and profitable).

  17. The EU is truly determined to destroy itself, is the only thing I can figure out. Well, the sooner, the better, and maybe, just MAYBE, somebody will learn from the EU’s mistakes.

  18. Time to take the internet away from the Euro-pussies.

  19. Serves the censoring bastards who run Facebook right.

    I expect the longer-term impact is that Internet forums and even individual blogs move out of the EU, and also out of countries like Norway and Switzerland which are subject to EU law. In high profile cases the bloggers themselves may have to move out, too. Then the EU can either start trying to duplicate the Great Firewall of China, or deal with the exodus of these businesses until the EU pulls its collective head back out of its ass, or dissolves for other reasons.

  20. But Europe is so progressive and civilized!

  21. “Members of the European Union’s parliament ignored dire warnings that they’re heading down a path toward massive online censorship ”

    “ignored”

    No. They heard those warnings and *reveled* in them. They did a jig.

    Censorship is the whole fucking point.
    I’m sure that people “warning” them that it will lead to censorship fills them with ecstatic glee.

    “We’re going to get away with it and the fucktard human cattle *still* don’t get that we are the boot and they are the human face which will be stamped on forever.”

  22. “But Article 13 has the potential for some seriously disastrous censorship outcomes online. Article 13 essentially says that online platforms must prevent users from uploading copyrighted content and take responsibility for any such content that is uploaded.”

    Change ‘upload’ to ‘publish’ and you’ve just described the conditions that print media have been operating under for years.

    1. That is simply not true. The only places that print media permitted general users (not employees or ad buyers) to publish content was through letters to the editor. I challenge you to find even one case of a newspaper being sued for copyright violation based on the content in a legitimate letter to the editor. (You will find a few alleging that the letter was a sham written by an employee but passed off as from a customer.)

      I don’t think you’ll even find a successful suit against the newspaper for a copyright violation by an ad buyer. That would be grounds to sue the guy who put together the ad but not the newspaper who unknowingly published it.

      But even it it were true, the precedent is weak. Newspapers deal with far less user-generated content than even the weakest social media platforms. Controls that work for the print media are simply infeasible in the new environment. The social compact that is copyright has become seriously unbalanced.

      1. “I challenge you to find even one case of a newspaper being sued for copyright violation based on the content in a legitimate letter to the editor.”

        Publishers took care in what they published. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were no such cases.

        “Controls that work for the print media are simply infeasible in the new environment.”

        You’d be surprised at what is feasible once the programmers do their thing. Internet publishing can avail itself of all the power automation can give it.

        “The social compact that is copyright has become seriously unbalanced.”

        I’m inclined to agree. It’s copyright that’s at the root here.

  23. But we have to give our government oversight of the internet to make sure nothing bad happens to it.

  24. It’s time to cut off Europe. Just start putting up country-based IP blockers and let them see how they like living without their favorite scape-goats.

    Ayn Rand may have had a lot of crazy ideas but it is looking more and more like this might be a John Galt moment.

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  27. Tech companies should just close their offices overseas, move them back to the US and tell the EU and their courts to go pound sand. What will the EU do, start blocking YouTube and Google and Facebook? Nothing a simple VPN can’t get around.

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  30. Scott, interesting article, but could you explain in greater detail how the EU will enforce this: an American web site owner posts content on an American server, with a link to an article in, for example, The Telegraph. Will the EU then send a bill to the American site owner? Who will promptly tell them to F#%k off?

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