Authors Need a Free and Open Internet

Photo by Émile Perron

As EU lawmakers struggle to reach an agreement on the final text for Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive, award-winning science fiction writer, Ken MacLeod shares his views on the controversial proposal that could lead user-generated content websites to implement upload filters. The views expressed here are his own.

As a full-time writer I have an interest in copyright. However arguable its principles and arbitrary its scope, I benefit from it. When I trip over an online pirate version of one of my books, I shamelessly snitch the pirates to my publishers.

But would I want the platforms that enable this piracy to be liable for it? No. Because then the platforms — mostly giant corporations whose names we all know — would have every incentive to screen for any content that might conceivably breach copyright. Given the volumes involved, they would have to attempt to automate their filters. Good luck with designing an algorithm that can distinguish rip-offs from fair dealing!

Far greater than my interest in copyright is my interest in a free and open internet — or, failing that, in keeping the internet as free and open as it is now. The internet is already a long way from the wild wonderland I first stepped into in the mid-1990s. Predictably enough, that early free-for-all has shrunk to a handful of giant corporations, who — like some fast-forward cartoon version of the last chapter of Marx’s Capital: Vol 1 — usurp and monopolise all the advantages of this process of transformation.

It’s tempting to think that the EU is standing up to the corporate behemoths in the interest of creators. But Articles 11 and 13 of the proposed directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market aren’t an instance of democracy against capitalism. Drafted with scary imprecision, they at best licence one group of corporate behemoths — the big publishers and creative industries — to harass another, the digital platforms. At worst, they enable the digital platforms to further censor and blinker us, their users.

The European Parliament would do well to ditch the offending articles, leave creators and publishers to deal with egregious rip-offs of their work, and leave the rest of us to meme and link and parody and remix as we please.