New Rules for the Internet, Looking Backwards

The EU Parliament seems not to understand the 29-year-old World Wide Web

Sep 17, 2018 · 3 min read

Last week’s vote in the European Parliament on the EU Copyright Directive will create enormous new rights for news publishers, and turn the clock back on how the internet works. Some key implications:

  • Article 11 was intended to allow publishers to make money when online platforms link to their stories, by demanding a paid license. The article has also been dubbed a ‘link tax’. Similar attempts have been unsuccessful in Germany and Spain, where it hurt publishers more than helped them.
  • Article 13 or ‘upload filter’ says that platforms “storing and giving access to large amounts of works and other subject-matter uploaded by their users” are obliged to filter out any materials without copyright license. Critics say that this would add more burden to startups as they try to keep up with filtering the content while at smaller head-count and overall resources.
  • Entrepreneur and investor Nicolas Colin argues that the Directive will hurt startups and entrepreneurship in Europe.
  • New copyright for sports teams could give the teams the ownership over all images and video taken at their games.
  • Ultimately, as the Electronic Frontier Found puts it, this Directive will make it easy for anyone to censor the Internet. It’s an attempt to commercialise internet culture.

(For a sober rundown of the detail, recommend ArsTechnica’s piece.) Others are more colourful in their assessment. It will “wreck the Internet,” says Cory Doctorow & “make the Internet worse for everyone” says James Ball.

It is backwards-looking, seeking to mainly protect a bunch of incumbents, and shows the EU Parliament seems to have no real understanding of the new possibilities enabled by the technology of the 29-year-old World Wide Web.

In a muddled attempt to protect the business model of existing media outlets and at the same time cock-a-snook at too powerful internet platforms, it savages the new creativity of the remix culture as well as attacks the hyper-plurality that user-generated commentary brings to the media mix.

Instead, it allows publishers to decide (with financial penalties attached!) who gets to comment on their material and how that commenting can happen. The upload filters? No more angry girlfriend memes or Downfall parodies? Will we be able to watch Dmitri learn that “God is dead”?

It reinforces centuries-old copyright law, whose protections, in an era of the fast-changing, intangible economy, need to be tightened and shortened, not expanded. Rules should be derived for the future to which we are heading, not to protect the churches and temples of the past.

Yes, it is laudable to want to promote high-quality journalism, research and criticism, and the art of the creator. This directive doesn’t do that, except perhaps, by accident. It really protects older business models, existing industry structures, incumbent firms and their management teams.

This type of institutional capture is commonplace. Those with declining power, especially in the face of new ideas which force them to think differently, seek to reinforce the status quo. They are Cnut’s courtiers urging him to turn back the waves.

In this case, the European Parliament will not only get their feet wet, but ours as well. And sadly, I don’t believe we brought our wellingtons…

The final vote is happening in January 2019.

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Entrepreneur, inventor and creator — curator of The Exponential View

NewCo Shift

Covering the biggest shift in business and society since the industrial revolution