In a vote earlier today, the European Parliament voted 348 to 274 to adopt a series of copyright rules that have serious implications for the broader online ecosystem. The most contentious parts of the excitingly named “Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market” are Articles 11 and 13, which contain requirements that many have argued imperil the free expression and exchange of information made possible by the internet.
Article 11 requires online platforms, like Google and Facebook, to pay what is informally known as a “link tax.” It is intended to allow news organizations and other media outlets to share in the profits that platforms reap from showing content made by these publishers. In other words, aggregating platforms need to pay the outlets that they quote and link to. As someone who works in the dying media industry, it’s a nice idea, but it has obvious problems. For one, it’s very ambiguous and doesn’t clearly define what constitutes a news publisher, nor does it define how large or small an excerpt needs to be to require licensing. And even if it did, the only companies really capable of paying for said licenses are the largest companies that already exist. It’s difficult for an upstart to take on Facebook and Google when they have to take on huge costs immediately.
The even more worrying measure is Article 13, which increases the liability of platforms in regard to user-submitted content. As it stands now, sites like YouTube are shielded from responsibility so long as they make a reasonable effort to respond to claims of copyright infringement. Article 13 would require sites to be much more assertive in stopping infringement, likely by negotiating licenses and implementing automated filters. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation puts it, Article 13 “demands that the people who operate online communities somehow examine and make copyright assessments about everything, hundreds of billions of social media posts and forum posts and video uploads.”
As with Article 11, it’s a well-intentioned idea, but it still heavily favors incumbents and shuts out anyone else. A European company that makes more than 10 million Euros in revenue would immediately have the same legal overhead as a platform like Facebook or Twitter. On top of that, it fails to acknowledge the fact that online communication and internet culture is largely predicated on the remix and reuse of the works of others; memes are defined by the fact that they all share the same core material.
E.U. members now have two years to transform the copyright directive into country-specific national laws. Legal challenges to the legislation are also expected.