Article updated on 3 September 2018.
The European Union (EU) is in the process of voting on a “copyright reform” package, which will fundamentally change the internet for European citizens, and possibly the world, and it will change the internet for the worse. As discussed by the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) in an open letter:
“Your mobile device, your car, your Wi-Fi router at home, your television, the airplanes in which you travel, all contain Free and Open Source Software. This widespread reuse is possible because Free and Open Source Software can be shared openly, studied and customized to meet any need.
The EU is getting ready to vote a “Copyright Reform” package which fundamentally undermines the foundations upon which Free and Open Source Software is built. The proposed Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive targets every online service that allows its users to upload and share content with each other, including code hosting platforms.
Under this proposal, code hosting platforms will be compelled to prevent any possible copyright infringement by developing fundamentally-flawed filtering technologies. These filtering algorithms will ultimately decide what material software developers should be allowed to share.
As a result of this ongoing copyright review, every user of a code sharing platform, be they an individual, a business, or a public administration, is to be treated as a potential copyright infringer; their content, including entire code repositories, will be monitored and blocked from being shared online at any time. This restricts the freedom of developers to use specific software components and tools, which in return, leads to less competition and less innovation. Ultimately, this can result in software that is less reliable and a less resilient software infrastructure for everybody.
We, individuals, developers, organizations, and companies that develop or rely on the Free and Open Source Software ecosystem call upon European decision makers to protect open, collaborative software ecosystems. We call upon European policy makers to fundamentally rethink or delete Article 13 of the EU Copyright Reform in order to avoid the threat it poses for Free and Open Source Software.
Save Europe’s digital future, by making sure that there is a re-think or deletion of Article 13 in the EU Copyright Reform.”
Needless to say, after reading what the FSFE wrote, this is indeed very bad for the internet. This will undermine Free, Libre, and Open Source projects such as Linux, Android, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, WordPress, and even many cryptocurrency programs. Furthermore, it can even potentially affect our memes, because upload filters, or as the EU calls them “censorship machines,” can’t tell if an image is under fair use rules, or if it is a legitimate copyright issue. We see this issue all the time with YouTube creators being flagged for copyright issues and having to be manually reviewed to prove they are under fair use or legal use. I know; I myself was flagged a few times on Twitch for using Backwordz music, despite prior permission from Eric July himself on the Being Libertarian team. But now the EU is going to require that for every single website that accepts uploads, no matter the size. So even we at Being Libertarian, were we to be located in the EU, would require an upload filter for when documents are submitted to us via guest contributions.
Aside from the damage that an upload filter would cause, the requirement for an EU link tax is just as destructive to our internet. The internet was intended from the very beginning to be a way to freely exchange information, however, Article 11 of the copyright reform package would change that, as well as revisit a failed policy which both Germany and Spain have tried to employ prior. What ended up happening was instead of getting companies like Google and other publishers to pay for the links, article excerpts, and previews, all those companies merely stopped linking to content which originated from Germany and Spain. But, to make it even worse, the European Commission (the governing body of the EU) will allow each of the EU member states to decide how the link tax should work, which appears to be counter-intuitive to the entire goal of creating a “digital single market.” This will create a lot of confusion and fracturing in the EU digital economy, which may cause a lot of companies to simply stop linking to certain parts of the EU, or even the EU as a whole. That would mean there could be potentially 27 completely different taxes and rules regarding linking in the EU. This fracturing of digital laws is actually a major reason why Netflix and other related services took so long to arrive in most of Europe.
The other impact of the link tax is that it could significantly decrease the number of hyperlinks we find on the internet, meaning the world wide web as a whole could be less connected with each other. But, another consequence is the link tax could give even more tailwind to fake news and propaganda, because real publishers may require a fee to link to their content, but fake news outfits could potentially allow linking for free. After all, the main goal of fake news and propaganda is to spread it as much as possible, and when fake news and propaganda is more easily found and available than legitimate news, we will have a huge problem. Furthermore, the link tax appears to be a violation of the Berne Convention, which guarantees news websites a right to quote articles and press summaries.
These two parts of the copyright reform certainly are the most controversial, but simple freedoms we take for granted in the USA, such as the ability to take a picture wherever we please in public, do not exist in some EU countries, nor is it even mentioned in the new copyright reform directive. Overall, this copyright reform will impact businesses both in the EU and abroad far more than the GDPR recently introduced in the EU ever did. All we can really do is push for EU citizens to contact their MEPs and express their disdain for this bill. The reality is, if the new copyright directive passes, most American companies may decide the EU is no longer worth sharing links to, which most likely wouldn’t be a positive outcome for the EU as a whole.
If you’re an EU citizen and would like to express your opinion to your MEPs, Mozilla has created a free calling tool, while the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and multiple European groups have developed an easy web tool to email your own MEPs.
The European Union Copyright Directive passed the European Parliament on 12 September 2018. This is after Parliament recently sent the directive back to the drawing board after rejecting it 318 to 278, with 31 abstentions, with Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) complaining that there was no debate on the directive before being brought to a vote.
“We’re enormously disappointed that MEPs failed to listen to the concerns of their constituents and the wider Internet,” said Danny O’Brien, an analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Today, however is not the end of the fight, as the proposal will be part of a three-way negotiation between Parliament, the Council of the Europe Union (they represent the states in the EU), and the European Commission (the executive branch of the EU). If those three entities agree to a final directive, it will be sent to each of the 28 EU member nations (27, pending Brexit). This means that all European voters who are concerned about the bill still have a few more months to contact their representatives both in their national government and the European Parliament.
The major detractors from the EUCD who lead major efforts, include the Free Software Foundation (FSF), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Mozilla Foundation, Google, and Wikipedia, amongst many other tech companies and non-profit foundations including prominent individuals such as Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the modern Internet.”