One Day To Go: Here’s What Tomorrow’s Crucial EU Vote is All About

Hundreds of thousands demonstrated yesterday against a new internet law that could be adopted by the European Union on Tuesday. The voting numbers in the European Parliament are extremely close, and it’s even likely that it will be voted through. If you don’t know what it all means, it’s time you found out.

In short, there are two things: a link tax and an internet filter.

The link tax comes from Article 11 of the Copyright Directive and deals with when links to newspapers and media from, for example, Google look like this:

If they’re to continue looking that way, Google has to pay. That’s because newspapers and media think Google is freeloading on their material. If Google refuses to cough up? Then your search results could end up looking like this:

This may just have to be a case of ‘it is what it is’; the biggest losers after all are the media houses themselves who simply won’t get as much traffic, as well as we the users who won’t get enough information before we click.

Internet Filter

What’s worse is Article 13, the internet filter.

Anyone who owns the copyright on pictures, movies and text is tired of them being spread around freely online without anybody paying for it. So now, all major social media channels will have to pay for their distribution.

This means social media will need to pay if you’re to be able to see a clip from Astrid Lindgren, as the Instagram account ‘Filmfabriken’ often offers up:

Keeping it Swedish with some Astrid Lindgren references.

Or, if you fancy a giggle at Greta Thunberg’s amusing clip:

That all sounds very well and good, and surely Facebook and the other online giants can afford it? The problem is, those who own the copyrights don’t always want their material on social media, or that you should be free to upload it. That’s why they’ll be able to demand that Facebook never publishes it in the first place.

Take the example of the Astrid Lindgren still above. If Facebook went ahead and published the video or the image, they’d be committing an offence and end up be liable for damages and any consequent criminal penalty. The upshot of this is that Facebook would need to sign licenses with every copyright holder in the world and make certain that only that which Facebook has paid for is published: everything else should be deleted before it’s even posted!

It would be enough that you simply claim copyright to that ugly picture of you that your friend posted. Then Facebook would have to delete it immediately, so as to not commit a crime.

There are exceptions, though. Satire, critique and parody, should still be allowed, even on copyrighted works. For example, like this:

The real Swedish royal family.

An obvious copyright infringement, but is it funny? Is it satire? Or is it just someone brazenly plundering other people’s work?

An automatic filter is supposed to be able to make that judgement — before it’s even been posted!

Or how about this one:

Me: Brrr, only 1°C, best take my winter coat. The afternoon:

Tom and Jerry don’t earn anything from being online, so they don’t want the picture to be used, but is the text funny enough to deserve an exemption as satire?

Or this one:

Bus explodes in Stockholm, just outside the Klara Tunnel

A video of a bus explosion in Stockholm, to which a person owns the copyright. Which they might want to sell to a tabloid. Then the tabloid wants everyone to come to their site to watch it, and not to share the video among their friends. Then it’s up to Facebook to stop any and all copies of it in circulation.

These may seem like banal examples, but it could just as easily be about wanting to critique a newspaper article, or quote a debate from TV. Then, it’s not quite as easy to take a screenshot and post it. Facebook need to be certain that it isn’t a crime, and because they’re the ones who are liable, they’ll want a pretty substantial margin of error.

This is what goes to the core of the issues with the new directive. Not that copyright owners should be paid fairly — on that, I think everyone agrees — but more how the law is set out.

The social platforms would not only be given the responsibility of filtering content, but would also become punishable and liable if they find themselves in the wrong. This gives private companies the status of police, prosecutor and judge, and more than anything, it risks limiting freedom of speech.

With all that said, we’ve barely scratched the surface of how hard it’d be for completely new sites to emerge. How should they be able to afford to develop a filter that can discern what content on their site might be a copyright violation? YouTube has something similar, that doesn’t work perfectly even today, and it cost $100million to develop. How could other sites possibly afford those kinds of figures?

It’s unreasonable, it frustrates competition, but above all, it puts at risk a natural part of freedom of expression.

It’s on this that the European Parliament will cast their final votes this Tuesday at noon. Then we’ll know what kind of internet we’ll have tomorrow.


This piece is funded by a Kickstarter campaign to monitor the European Parliament’s Copyright Directive proposal during its final stage of voting. Text and images are supplied under CC BY, a license that makes it free to share and redistribute wherever you want, provided you link back here with appropriate credit.

Read the original post in Swedish.