On September 12, 2018, the European Parliament approved a directive to tighten copyright regulation on the Internet. Proponents of the initiative call this protection of intellectual property of journalists, authors, publishers and creative people. In their opinion, this is a victory over technology giants such as Facebook and Google, which now completely control the global network. Opponents of the directive believe that this is the beginning of the end of the free Internet. But first, let's understand what all fuss is about, and how it will affect simple Internet users.
What started it allFirst of all, it is worth noting that this is the second attempt to consider the directive. The first was undertaken on July 5, then the European Parliament rejected the document and sent it for revision. The main wave of indignation concerned two key articles - 11 and 13. The first provides for the right of publishers to request payment for their materials that are distributed by online platforms, and the second makes these online platforms responsible for content downloaded by users that violates copyright. In protest, Wikipedia even suspended the site in several European languages, as the resource was primarily subject to the new law. In the parliamentary version of the amended directive, this moment was taken into account and made an exception for sites such as Wikipedia, GitHub and others.
As conceived by lawmakers, both articles should compensate for the imbalance at the core of today's global network. For example, Google has large revenues on content (music, films, books, articles and other materials of foreign intellectual property), at a time when the authors themselves, at best, receive some meager rewards. Obviously, this did not affect everyone equally, someone more, someone less, and someone doesn’t get anything at all. Thus, the copyright directive is intended to correct this inequality.
Section 11. Tax on LinksThis section has been nicknamed the “link tax”; it allows authors to request a license to use their materials. Most likely, the goal is various aggregators and large online platforms. As for ordinary users, the article “does not prevent the legal private and non-commercial use of publications in the press by individual users”. But what exactly is meant by a commercial platform is not explained in the document. Which category, for example, include a blog or Facebook page with a large audience?
Amendments to the directive state that ordinary hyperlinks, and with them “individual phrases”, will not be taxed. The question again arises: what is the maximum number of words or phrases that can be legally used so that such phrases do not turn into a so-called snippet (a fragment of the source text), and the site does not have to pay the author for this?
Opponents of the directive argue that exceptions will not work, since no one usually clicks on a link without a brief description of what it leads to. In addition, they note that it will not be possible to adapt this law in different countries either. For example, in Spain in 2014, a similar law was passed that obliged publishers to identify fragments provided by news aggregators. Google on this occasion closed the Google News service, and local platforms did not cope with the collapse. Total traffic, respectively, fell by 15%. The same law was adopted in Germany a year earlier, the consequences were similar.
Section 13. Content FilterAnother headache is the 13th article, dubbed “Downloadable Content Filter”. It states that online platforms that provide access to various materials should ensure that users do not infringe on copyrights. Theoretically, such resources can be held accountable by copyright holders, therefore, it is in their interests to cooperate with each other.
It is not very clear how to implement such a requirement in practice. For example, YouTube and Facebook will need to check the content downloaded by users against the database and, if it is protected by copyright holders, block it. On the other hand, this can trigger the abuse of copyright by the so-called copyright trolls, which will lead to millions of errors. Some suggest that the adoption of new rules will ultimately “kill” memes, although supporters of the bill argue that this will not affect various kinds of parodies. The problem is that the filtering system is unlikely to understand where the memes are, and where there is a clear violation of copyright. In addition, in different countries of Europe the law will have its own nuances, perhaps somewhere exceptions will not apply to memes.
Experts argue that, in theory, the directive does not provide for the use of filters. Instead, a system similar to the Content ID on YouTube will be used, which stores digital fingerprints (samples) of content provided by copyright holders and compares the materials published by users with them.
The paradox is that laws are written by politicians who spend the least time on the Internet. However, they believe that the global web consists only of Facebook and YouTube. But we are not only talking about technological giants, there are fears that technologies such as text mining and data mining may be at risk.
What will happen nextThe adopted copyright directive as it is now will now be discussed between elected members of parliament, the European Commission and representatives of EU Member States. This process usually occurs behind closed doors. Perhaps some of the most controversial aspects of the document will be changed or removed, but there is also a high probability that everything will remain as it is. After that, the directive will again be put to the vote in the European Parliament from January to March 2019.
If the European Parliament finally approves the directive, EU member states will have two years to amend their legislation. How this will happen in individual regions and what will happen next remains a mystery. In any case, if large online platforms have to use Internet filters, this may lead to the termination of many services in Europe, as was the case after the entry into force of the GDPR (general regulation on the protection of personal data), and also accelerate the separation of the Internet when In Europe, the global network will be significantly different from the rest of the world.