The internet has become one of the most important utilities we use in our day to day lives. Whether it be accessing email, streaming services, message boards, news websites or social media. It’s had a great impact on society, but things are about to change for the worse.
Article 13, or the European Union’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, is in the final stages of being passed through the European Parliament. At a glance of the title, the bill doesn’t seem too unreasonable. Creators deserve to get paid for their work and their work deserves to be protected, I agree with that- but that’s not the problem here.
The problem is that Article 13 is written in such a vague and narrow way that if implemented it will cancel out all content that isn’t solicitated by major corporations, effectively privatising the internet.
Material uploaded to the internet operates under two legal norms; Fair Use and Safe Harbour.
Fair Use effectively states that copyrighted material can be used by third parties so long as it’s for educational purposes, commentary, critique or parody. It’s a very inclusive standard that encompasses practically everything, from covers of popular songs to the creation of memes. So long as your content is not just a direct copy of that material, then it falls under fair use.
Safe Harbour effectively states that an internet service, such as YouTube, is not responsible for copyrighted material being uploaded. They are however responsible for removing said material as quickly as possible. YouTube will not be dealt with the penalties of a copyright strike, that will solely fall upon the YouTube creator that uploaded said content in the first place.
An example of these two norms being applied would be the film review or film criticism channels prevalent on YouTube. The creators upload videos of varying quality discussing a film, of which they can include the poster of the film, snippet of the film and images of the film in the thumbnail. The use of this material in this way falls under Fair Use as it is a critique of the material, and nit just a direct copy of the material.
Safe Harbour would more or less concern illegal streams of copyrighted material, such as a Conor McGregor fight or a 24 hour live stream of Family Guy episodes. Fox can’t punish YouTube for harbouring this material. Instead what it can do is alert the site that it housing copyrighted material and from that point on it is YouTube’s responsibility to get rid of it.
These norms apply to every site, not just YouTube. Most sites have pretty good algorithms to detect copyrighted material and plagiarism. In fact, Facebook will prevent content from being uploaded at all if it violates their copyright infringement policy.
That’s the way the internet has operated up to this point. Not perfectly, but better than any alternatives. But the problem with Fair Use is that it’s an American law and thus does not apply to material in the EU. Europe’s equivalent to Fair Use is something known as Permitted Use, which basically means you require the copyright owner’s explicit permission to use their material.
Again, it sounds reasonable- but the law is written in such a narrowly defined way that little to nothing can get past it. To create a review of someone’s material would become much more of a hassle then it ought to be- even when the reviewer is effectively promoting your material regardless of the rating they garnish.
But now with Article 13, things are going to get much worse. The law will effectively end Safe Harbour. Meaning that sites such as YouTube will face the full bulk of copyright infringement and not just the creator. Keep in mind the vast amount of content uploaded to YouTube, hundreds of thousands of video content in Europe alone. There is no possible way that YouTube could monitor all this material for copyright infringement, so they’ll be forced into a dire situation.
What YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg have been warning against is that unless the law is changed to protect both Fair or Permitted Use and Safe Harbour, then Europe will fall under an internet bubble. Little to no internet content can enter and no content can be uploaded within.
The only things that you’ll be able to access on YouTube (if you’re even able to access YouTube) would be material that the site is definitely sure belongs to the creator i.e. movie trailers and some music videos. You won’t be able to watch smaller, independent creators who make up the vast bulk of the content uploaded to YouTube.
You won’t be able to access Facebook, or Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, WordPress- all of these sites cannot guarantee 100% that they will not facilitate copyrighted material, so they’ll just not be able to give users access to the site.
You would not be able to access this very article, because it is both on Worpress and I have used an image from Google images for the thumbnail. You won’t be able to watch Crash Course to study for a history test because the video makes a vague reference to a video game character or the music is vaguely similar to something else. You won’t be able to listen to Bach on YouTube because Sony owns the rights to it. You won’t be able to stream albums on Spotify, or get your news from Twitter- hell, the article is going to implement a Link Tax- which will grind online news media to a halt.
The internet in Europe will effectively be crippled.
Consumers don’t want this. The EU really doesn’t need the bad press and the only people that stand the benefit are the multinational corporations that are looking to close off on one of the final frontiers of our age; the internet.
Do you want Tim Cook telling you what you can and can’t see? Fuck no, fuck Tim Cook.
To stop Article 13 you need to spread the word. Share this article, share a dozen more articles, share videos that go into a lot more depth into the topic like this one from Film Theory or this one from Philip DeFranco. You need to create your own content to spread the word because you have an invested interest in keeping the internet safe, even if you’re not European. If the precedent is set, they’ll be coming for you.
Most importantly, if you’re a European Citizen, contact your MEP. Google who your MEP is and email, write or call them to tell them that you’re concerned about Article 13. Tell them that if the bill is issued in this format that it threatens the security of hundreds of thousands of jobs, that it could trigger disproportionate unemployment in certain sectors of the economy and may cause a mass migration of developers and creatives alike. A brain-drain.
Tell them that it’ll cause a lot of bad press for the EU, particularly among the uniformed general public. Tell them that it will stifle innovation, threaten businesses and cost Europe a fuck ton of money. Tell them that they need to re-read this article and make the appropriate amendments so that the text is less vague, that it encompasses both fair use and safe harbour and that it benefits both consumer and creator alike.
Of course, the problem arised in the first place because our MEP’s didn’t read it and if they did, they didn’t understand it. Anyone over forty really doesn’t understand the potential harm that stifling the internet would cause. That’s why I propose that when the EU, or any officials want to form any policies regarding the internet- they really need to consult the younger generations.
When you write policy on climate change, you consult the climate scientists. When you write policy on education, you consult the education authorities. When you write policy regarding the internet, you should consult the very people with the best understanding of the utility from both a financial and cultural background- Millennials and Generation Z.
And it’s not even going to be hard to find people like this. Just in Queens alone you could find a good two dozen young people who are both familiar with EU law and the ways of the internet. Never mind the amount of people you can find down south or in the UK or the rest of continental Europe. There are plenty of people you could consult, if you wanted to.
Nothing is set in stone, you can still make a difference. Please, save your internet.