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Big Brother EU is WWWatching you

Written by Petar Aleksiev on 17 September 2018

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On 12.9.18 the EU parliament voted 438 for to 226 against with 39 abstentions to pass the infamous Article 11 and 13 of the new reviewed copyright Directive.

This Directive has been dubbed highly controversial and is not the first time it has come under fire from both the online community and huge tech companies. The notoriety of the Directive has brought artists and tech inventors to vouch both for and against. Notable mentions include: Tim Berners Lee (pioneer of the internet as we know it today), Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, arguing against. Former Beatle Paul McCartney and French DJ David Guetta have come out with support for the proposed changes.

Article 11 grants press publications copyright over the sharing of their content online. This in turn requires user content-based companies to pay royalties for the right to share articles and other copyright-protected content such as scientific papers. Public interest related content is at risk of being put behind a pay-wall. Critics have dubbed it a “link tax”, yet it is insisted hyperlinks be exempt.

Article 13 is made to regulate “effective content recognition” technology in order to filter out copyright-protected content. This would require companies such as Google (owners of YouTube), Facebook, Twitter and many more to rethink and be forced to use filtering systems which will block any copyrighted content. Critics are concerned that this could amount to heavy censorship of the internet with the potential of it becoming tyrannical. It would seem that the use of copyright-protected material used for commentary or parody should be permitted under the “fair use” doctrine, yet the new proposed laws have no mention of it.

The peak of the interest was ironically as to the status of “memes” which rely on images or videos protected by copyright. Article 13’s proposed “robo-copyright” would target memes, cheers at a football match and parodies, among many other ridiculous examples and block them out or take them down.

The key principle out of all IP law is to find an extremely fine balance between free speech and protection of works. With these laws being debated and so far agreed upon, both sides of the argument are eager to explain their viewpoint with the EU’s Axel Voss (key proponent and lobbyist for the law) saying it will not lead to censorship of memes. On the other side, Jim Killock (executive director of anti-censorship organization Open Rights Group) went so far as to argue:

“Machines can’t judge human culture. When they can, we’ll have bigger issues to think through than copyright enforcement”.

The past decade has been filled with changes to the internet, beginning with the US’s decision to abolish net neutrality and so far ending with this decision. Some might consider this a real life beginning of George Orwell’s 1984… just with memes included. The Directive still has a long way to go until enforcement, and if you feel obliged to try stopping it contact your MEP with your concerns.       

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