Article 13: EU's controversial copyright law due for final vote

Article 13: EU's controversial copyright law due for final vote

The vote could change the way memes spread and gifs are shared in Europe. Tech companies and citizens alike are not impressed.


The European Parliament on Tuesday plans to take a final vote on a key piece of legislation that could have a significant impact on the future of the internet as Europeans know it.

The legislation in question is the EU copyright directive, a proposed law that will overhaul copyright rules in Europe to bring them up to date for the internet age. But one part of the proposal in particular -- Article 13, which will govern the way copyrighted content is uploaded to the internet -- has many in the tech community throwing their hands up in despair.

Article 13 dictates that anyone sharing copyrighted content must get permission from rights owners, or at least have made the best possible effort to get permission, before doing so. But this doesn't just mean full songs, movies, TV shows and images. It also means gifs, memes and screenshots.

In order to enforce this, internet platforms would be forced to use upload filters to evaluate material before it goes online. Even the wealthiest online services such as Facebook and YouTube, which have spent years developing this technology, haven't been able to prove that pre-moderation of content is a foolproof method for preventing content from surfacing online that shouldn't be there.

Article 13 would fundamentally reshape the European Internet, and everyone is against it.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

The concern is that the legislation will lead to a far more locked down and less creative version of the internet as we know it today. It may also stymie competition between internet platforms, as only the biggest and wealthiest may be able to afford to comply with the legislation. Last year a group of over 70 internet luminaries including Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee addressed their own concerns about the legislation in a letter to the president of European Parliament.

In a blog post last week, the Wikimedia Foundation (one of many protestors against the directive) said Article 13 would "dramatically decrease the diversity of content available online." "Wikimedia cannot support a reform that, at its core, aims to radically control the sharing of information online," said the foundation.

Last week, four versions of Wikipedia (German, Czech, Danish and Slovak) blacked out for a day to protest the directive. Other sites including Reddit, Twitch and Pornhub joined in with protests of their own.

"Even though Reddit is an American company, we'd be highly impacted by changes to the law, as would our European users," the company wrote in a blog post last week. "It could even impact the availability of services we provide to non-EU users."

Worries about a link tax

Article 13 isn't the only piece of the proposed legislation that has infuriated people. Tech companies have also taken issue with a second section, Article 11, which says search engines and news aggregators will be charged to display snippets of news they're linking to (called a link tax).

Back in January, Google said it may have to pull its news service from Europe entirely if the directive passes in its current state. Screenshots captured by Search Engine Land showed how Google news results would appear in Europe if Google doesn't pay the tax. (Spoiler alert: They're just a bunch of empty boxes.)

At this stage, the vote could go either way Tuesday -- bear in mind that the EU has negotiated the contents of the directive for well over two years and it contains many more clauses than just                                                                                                                                                       Articles 11 and 13. But the fight to persuade members of the European Parliament not to vote in favor of adopting the legislation isn't over quite yet.

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people marched in protest in cities across Germany against the proposed law. Meanwhile, the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation is encouraging people to get in touch with their elected representatives to make their views known.

"Dozens of MEPs are undecided on how to vote," it said on Twitter, linking to the Save Your Internet campaign. "Article 13 would fundamentally reshape the European Internet, and everyone is against it: artists, small businesses, big businesses, the Internet's creators, and over 5 million people who signed the petition to stop the censorship machine it would create."


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