The great European copyright disaster

In a supposed bid to modernize copyright law and adapt it into the digital era, the European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, has managed to outdo itself. The final proposal introduced a few days ago was, in fact, much worse than what the leaks had led us to believe. Quite simply, it could not be worse.

The Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market (pdf) is a perfect illustration, once again, that Europe is unable to look to the future and remains fixed on the past. The directive comes from a draft by Günther Oettinger (yes, the same Günther Oettinger that once defined network neutrality as a “Taliban-like issue”) initially written in 2014, precisely when Spain tried to introduce the so-called “Google tax”, a disgraced episode that forced Google to discontinue Google News in Spain (yes, believe it or not, Spain is one of the few countries in the world where Google News is not available).

The draft does not take into account the central role that social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat play in the diffusion of news, aggregating them in cards that make a continuous use of headlines and snippets. From a legal perspective, trying to tax the use of headlines and snippets is not viable considering the ruling of the Svenson-Bestwater case on the use of previously published contents. Quite simply, the idea of charging social networks, search engines or aggregators for the diffusion of news is simply dead from a legal perspective.

The fact that the draft keeps insisting in this concept shows to what extent this is a disaster area that focuses on protecting the interests of traditional businesses at the expense of new models and companies, totally ignoring all the concerns and suggestions made during the public consultancy phase.

An outdated piece of legislation like this shows that the Commission’s bureaucrats are acting in the interests of powerful lobbies determined to smother the emergence of any kind of creative ecosystem, instead preferring to provide the lawyers with a rich feeding ground.

The proposals build on all the errors recently committed in countries like Spain: it not only tries to come up with “new rights” for print media, meaning that anybody who writes, reads, shares, comments on or provides a link to news must “pay for the privilege”, but it also obliges websites to install complex monitoring technology making them de facto snitches about what their readers are up to, and that will require constant supervision of anybody who aims to publish anything. In short, it criminalizes providing links in articles.

The proposals are the basis for creating a police state for content providers and will destroy an attempt to build an ecosystem based on creativity and innovation. This is not the way to update copyright; it is in fact the opposite, failing on every level in its supposed proposition, making sure that nothing changes and that methods that required a major overhaul to adapt to the modern era will instead continue to prevail over any possibility of evolution.

Instead of looking to the future by adapting out of date copyright rules to the real world, the Commission has instead decided to defend to the death the old ways of doing things. As said, a disaster area.

I am a devout European, but at this rate, I think we may soon envy the British for having gotten out in time…

(En español, aquí)