Did the European Parliament just hit the internet with a big, dumb stick?

The European Parliament just voted in favor of several new copyright policies.  It’s just one step in a long and complex process, but it could have powerful effects on the internet.

Specifically, the Parliament approved two articles.  One (article 11) would require certain technology platforms (think Google News) to pay intellectual property holders when they display snippets of the latter’s content.  Some call this a link tax.  The other (article 13) requires digital platforms (think YouTube and Facebook) to implement filters that would check for copyrighted content in uploads, and block accordingly.

Debates seem to follow a classic split.  On the one hand, IP holders and some of their allies think this is great, because it means more pay for them creators.  Some of them think their opponents are spreading FUD from Silicon Valley giants.  There’s also a touch of Euro-centrism against arrogant Yankee companies. On the other, tech companies, copyright activists, some of the internet’s founders, and the EFF think this is terrible as it will chill people’s online expression.  This group also sees a scale problem, with larger entities better able to follow the law than small ones.

Here’s a sample:

In remarks following the vote in Parliament this morning, MEP Axel Voss, who has led the charge on Articles 11 and 13, thanked his fellow politicians “for the job we have done together.” “This is a good sign for the creative industries in Europe,” said Voss. Opposing MEPs like Julia Reda of the Pirate Party described the outcome as “catastrophic.”

So what does this tell us about the future?

In the very short term, the Euro Parliament has to work on these articles a bit more, leading to another vote in January.  So the policies could die, be strengthened, mutate, or remain.

It’s another sign of the long-running friction between copyright law and the internet.  To paraphrase Anonymous, we should expect them. (I don’t have time to write more about this, as I’m between planes)

This also reiterates the tension between (some) large content owners and (some) individual creators, a tension that’s been in play for two generations of computing.  It’ll be interesting to see how this angle plays out.  The “nationalist” side of the EU debate is telling.

Where do you think this will head?

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10 Responses to Did the European Parliament just hit the internet with a big, dumb stick?

  1. Lance Eaton says:

    Well…I think I know where this is headed: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wntX-a3jSY

    That is to say, this will just be a boon for membership in the pirate party…

  2. Ben James says:

    The link tax is bound to backfire. Google and other sites will refuse to link to sites where they have to pay a tax. They have done it before when they were required to pay royalties to other sites.

  3. Chris L says:

    Both of those article are classic big-media bullshit.

  4. Ton Zijlstra says:

    It’s of interest to note that both articles were put into the proposal later by a Commissioner. It wasn’t part of the original drive to a new copyright directive.
    Article 11 is a copy of a law already on the books in Germany, where in the past 5 years it has done nothing for content creators, and the original publishers pushing for the law eager to collect some revenue folded when Google stopped linking to them and now allow Google a free license, but new entrants are blocked because they do face those link licenses. The German experience with the law has been ignored, but the law itself has been copied. (And I’ll just ignore the fact that the link is the fundamental plumbing of the web here)

    Art 13, after previously been voted down in July, has dropped the mention of filtering but retains the principle of making platforms responsible for users uploading copyrighted material. At issue here is not so much the point of limiting the unlicensed spread of copyrighted material, but those advocating for this wildly overestimating the technical capabilities and ignoring already visible negative side effects. Filtering of any kind means false positives, and false negatives, distinguishing between content, parody and satire automatically is hard, and there’s an enormous power difference introduced by easy automatic claim filing versus manual time consuming defence against claims.

    I’ve approached all Dutch MEPs before the vote(s), and what I find interesting is that only those agreeing with me responded with an acknowledgement of receiving my mail or an explanation of how they will proceed during the process. None of those voting in favour bothered to explain their reasoning. It seems to me what separates the ayes from the noes highly correlates with digital/technical savviness and understanding. Entire countries, like Germany, politically still approach internet and digital networks as something novel and uncertain (they still use the term ‘Neuland’ or New Land), where others e.g. Estonia see it as the fundamental building block of their public infrastructure.

    The proposal now goes to ‘trilogue’ where the European Parliament, European Commission and the Council (the heads of government of the Member States) will together agree the final text to be voted upon in January. Theoretically this may still mean that both articles might be removed or altered. In practice when a proposal reaches trilogue it is unlikely anything fundamental will change.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Ton, I’m delighted you were able to post here. I appreciate your well informed perspective, and also applaud your outreach to local MPs.

      I’m horrified at how widespread technical ignorance is in 2018. I shouldn’t be surprised, but…

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