The European Parliament just voted in favor of new copyright laws that could potentially stifle the internet as Europe knows it. Granting the Copyright Directive still has to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole before it goes into effect, critics of the Directive, particularly Articles 11 and 13, fear that its passage could be a precipice to Orwellian censorship.
Online platforms like Google, Facebook, and Twitter could be on the hook for content shared by users on their platform that violates copyright law. Needless to say, these companies would much rather comply, and perhaps through draconian measures, with the terms of the Directive than to be held financially liable to record companies, filmmakers, and other creators.
Article 11 entitles news publishers “fair and proportionate remuneration for the digital use of their press publications by information society service providers.” So what justifies “remuneration,” you might ask? What exactly does the term “digital use” mean? Two sentences? A paragraph?
The “link tax” forces online platforms to pay publishers for sharing a link to an article unless they are “mere hyperlinks which are accompanied by individual words.” However, the term “individual words” is open to interpretation, not to mention hyperlinks usually contain in excess of “individual words.”
If a Facebook user posts an excerpt of a news article on his wall, will it then get taken down by Facebook for copyright infringement? Now, what if it was an excerpt of a news article that doesn’t align with Facebook’s progressive orthodoxy? Of course, Facebook can always cite “copyright infringement,” but there’s really no way of knowing. Free speech advocates and users are skeptical on how this would be implemented, and rightly so.
Of course, Facebook can always cite “copyright infringement,” but there’s really no way of knowing.
Perhaps the more controversial of the two, Article 13 states that “online content sharing service providers and right holders shall cooperate in good faith in order to ensure that unauthorized protected works are not available on their services.”
In other words, it is incumbent upon online content sharing service providers (e.g. Facebook, Google) to filter out and remove any content from their platform that violates copyright law. In order to do so, they would have to implement some kind of aggressive filtering mechanism that combs through every single content that is uploaded—a move that might not sit well with internet privacy advocates and users who have been shell-shocked by allegations of privacy violations and shadow banning of users carried out by the very same companies who are tasked to implement the new copyright laws.
De facto ban on memes
The Directive is perceived by some critics as a veiled attempt to censor the internet, which includes memes. Should it pass into law next year, it all but eliminates the sharing of memes, which are largely copyrighted material. While the goal, i.e. to fairly compensate artists for their work, seems reasonable at face value, tech companies (whose objectivity remains in question) are given the monopoly on regulating the flow of ideas. Online platforms could effectively take down memes for ideological reasons rather than on the basis of copyright violations.
Passing the Copyright Directive into law could set a dangerous precedent for other countries outside of the EU. Deputizing a handful of powerful tech companies as arbiters of acceptable information with no clear guidelines to follow and virtually no accountability undermines the very essence of a free and transparent internet.
Deputizing a handful of powerful tech companies as arbiters of acceptable information with no clear guidelines to follow and virtually no accountability undermines the very essence of a free and transparent internet.