The controversial new EU copyright laws Article 11 and Article 13 of the new copyright Directive of the European Parliament was passed on March 26, 2019. Now, people are busy thinking about how the European internet will change. When these articles were announced, the online community was concerned that memes and gifs would disappear under the censorship. However, the European Parliament has reassured the public that they will be exempt from this regulation. Despite these assurances, there are still plenty of people who think that increased censorship or regulation will only lead to more problems for creators and internet users.
“I think the main fear that a lot of people have is that it’s going to result in – kind of – an over-policing of a lot of content,” says Azad Niroomand, an exchange student at Sciences Po. Azad voices a common concern about the future of platforms like YouTube which have come under fire in the recent months for their handling of copyright claims and disputes.
Articles 11 and 13 are new copyright laws. Article 11 makes it so a large company like Facebook or Google would need to pay for the individual copyright to every link which they display. A press release from the EU Parliament states that “Hyperlinks to news articles, accompanied by ‘individual words or very short extracts’, can be shared freely.” This means that you and your friends will still be able to send around the newest hot article to each other, but if you are Google, then you might not be able to display the top 100 headlines without paying royalties to those news companies. Article 13 pertains to the ownership of content. It will act as a filter to stop copyrighted content from being wrongly uploaded. A platform will become directly responsible for the content that its users post. If you upload the entire Beatles catalogue to YouTube, then YouTube is responsible for it. This raises a lot of questions about how YouTube will manage to police their content further than they already do. All it takes is a Google search for videos about the copyright strike system on the platform to understand that people are unhappy with YouTube’s approach to dealing with ownership.
These new internet regulations are raising a lot of questions about what responsible rules look like. There is a fine balance between protecting people’s rights and stripping them away. How similarly can we supervise the internet compared to television or radio? Are the people in power the right ones to be making these decisions? The internet has been a hot-topic of regulation over the past couple of years. In 2017, the American Federal Communications Commission repealed the net neutrality laws which former President Barack Obama enacted. This policy prohibited the blocking, throttling of speeds, and the ability for companies to pay for a bandwidth priority. However, also on March 26th, a new bill, which would bring back the Obama-era policies, entitled the “Save the Internet Act” passed the first round of voting. These new regulatory policies and reforms are the first examples that we have of internet standardization. It is likely that even if these policies work, our understanding of the internet will evolve in ways which we cannot possibly imagine.
“What makes the internet remarkable, like any form of media and information sharing, is its openness and the ability for anyone, everywhere, to access everything… The fears that are surrounding a lot of these types of legislation, whether it’s Article 13 or the repeal of net neutrality, is the fact that it sort of then prioritizes certain types of content and commercializes what should be an open and free platform,” states Azad.
Echoing similar concerns to Azad is another exchange student, Eugene Fernandes, who fears that these new laws will affect commentary channels on YouTube like ‘CinemaSins’ who make videos about ridiculous errors and oversights in movies. He ends his thoughts by saying, “So the only people who’ll end up continuing to make money would be the big corporations and agencies. But I’m still finding this hard to believe.”
Another Sciences Po student, this time a French native, Nicholas Guignard is not worried about the new articles. He refers to the first years of the internet as a pirate age where people were able to steal and download whatever content they wanted. He thinks that it is about time for standardization across platforms to become a reality. These laws are only going to affect people who are wrongfully profiting off of stolen content. Nicholas also does not seem worried about any adverse potential effects on education. He states, “for teaching, the internet is never going to check that, if you use an image on your powerpoint – they will never fine you for that.”
The controversial vote has been even further ridiculed since Martin Kinnunen, a member of the Swedish parliament posted on Twitter “Feltryckning av våra MEPs i den röstningen” which roughly translates to “ An error/mistake of our representatives in the voting”. Roughly 10 MEPs have been reported as saying that they pressed the wrong button. Their votes would have stopped the articles from passing, but EU rules say that they must go through and can only be changed for the record.
Nicholas Dungan, a professor at Sciences Po and expert in European politics, thinks that “European citizens will largely tolerate, [the policies] preferring order to lack of protection,” citing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation as precedent. However, he acknowledges the articles as “possibly overkill and much criticized.” The future of the Internet is a complete mystery. At the very least, we can continue to remain vigilant and fight for what regulations we think should and should not exist.
Cover photo by https://www.eff.org/files/banner_library/eu-copyright_0.png