The stupidity of copyright

Enrique Dans
Mar 27 · 4 min read

I’m sorry to have to say this, but the only thing the European Parliament’s approval yesterday of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is that the European Parliament is full of useless, incompetent and ignorant people unable to understand what they are doing. It is sad that something as powerful and potentially positive as the European Union gets so many things wrong, the result of a process that has led the European Parliament, with rare exceptions, to attract the worst from each of its member states, resulting in an elephant’s graveyard of people who have no idea what they are voting for, its importance, and who are completely out of step with the times they live in.

The directive in question is an absolute disgrace, an all-out attack on the essence of the internet, imposing alien concepts such as content upload filters or payment by links. Those aspects alone is enough to write the directive off as the work of idiots. In short, the aim of the directive seems to be to bring the internet under control, subordinate to the interests of the copyright lobby, as if the web were an instrument simply for the distribution of creations subject to intellectual property. Yes, the idea is to install filters to certify that everything that is uploaded doesn’t infringe somebody’s copyright: a bit like installing spies in every bar and in every restaurant so that every time someone mentions something they’ve read, heard or seen they can be silenced. What’s more, the whole thing has been sold as “content creators take on the internet giants”, which is an insult to the intelligence.

The copyright lobby likes to see itself as in step with the times and able to use technology to change how the internet works; the reality is that it has no idea what’s going on or what technology is or what it can do. This is legislation that is doomed to failure.

At the same time, yesterday’s vote represents a clear institutional failure: a significant number of MEPs said they had voted erroneously because of a last-minute change of order: they simply pressed the wrong button. The process is intentionally so ridiculous, that the directive was passed by parliamentarians who did even know what they were voting for. It is sad to see the dream of a united Europe reduced to a farce. Ignoring widespread protests and petitions, along with opposition from the electorate, as well as plain common sense and the advice of academics, technologists and human rights experts, the directive will now be applied to the laws of each member state, and each will fail utterly in applying it.

Behind this farce is the media and content lobby, which has dressed the whole thing up as Europe taking on the might of corporate America. Sadly, our MEPs are so dimwitted as to either believe it or too lazy to bother exploring the truth, or too arrogant to listen to the people who elect and advise them.

What will happen when people want to upload something to the internet and are blocked by a filter? That’s right: they’ll use technology to bypass the filter. What will happen when a publication provides a link to another, which then demands payment? That’s right, it will stop providing links to that publication. Other applications, other methods, other procedures, other possibilities will arise, and they will be stimulated by the dynamism of the internet, which as John Gilmore said in 1993, the net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it. Experience shows that filters do not work and that repeated attempts to impose them simply creates monsters. But experience and common sense are qualities lacking in most European legislators, who seem more interested in ending the open nature of the internet.

That said, the Internet will resist, because freedom of expression and information is and will always be above the economic interests of big business. The directive approved yesterday will go down in history as one of the most absurd and inoperative laws ever created, approved mistakenly by people who did not know what they were voting for. A waste of time and money, an attempt to prevent innovation by trying to fix something that ain’t broke. If copyright does not work in the digital age, it is because the Statute of Queen Anne, promulgated on April 10, 1719, was not designed for a digital context, nor was it ever adapted to it in a minimally reasonable and meaningful way. If copyright is to work in the digital age, we have to adapt it, because trying to change the rest of the world to put it at the service of copyright is a stupidity as sovereign as Queen Anne herself.

(En español, aquí)

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)

Enrique Dans

Written by

Professor of Innovation at IE Business School and blogger at

Enrique Dans

On the effects of technology innovation on people, companies and society (writing in Spanish at since 2003)

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade