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The EU's Copyright Directive Charm Offensive Pats Europeans On the Head and Tells Them Leave it Up to the Corporations

DEEPLINKS BLOG
January 16, 2019

The EU's Copyright Directive Charm Offensive Pats Europeans On the Head and Tells Them Leave it Up to the Corporations

A mouse drags file to a video sharing service: someone drags and drops "my_bach_lesson.mp3" into the video uploader—before it's  added, it then shows a red screen and image of a copyright robot. It says "Uh oh. Your content has been blocked."

When it comes to the new Copyright Directive, some in the EU would prefer that Europeans just stop paying attention and let the giant corporations decide the future of the Internet.

In a new Q&A about the Directive, the European Parliament – or rather, the JURI committee, which, headed by Axel Voss, spearheaded the shepherding of Article 13 and 11 through a skeptical Parliament, sets out a one-sided account of the most far-reaching regulation of online speech in living memory, insisting that "online platforms and news aggregators are reaping all the rewards while artists, news publishers and journalists see their work circulate freely, at best receiving very little remuneration for it."

The author of JURI’s press release is right about one thing: artists are increasingly struggling to make a living, but not because the wrong corporations are creaming off the majority of revenue that their work generates. For example, streaming music companies hand billions to music labels, but only pennies reach the artists. Meanwhile, a handful of giant companies make war with one another over which ones will get to keep the spoils of creators' works. In a buyers' market, sellers get a worse deal, and when there are only five major publishers and four record labels and five Internet giants, almost everyone is a seller in a buyers' market.

The EU's diagnosis is incomplete, and so its remedy is wrong. Article 13 of the new Copyright Directive requires filters for big online platforms that watch everything that Europeans post to the Internet and block anything that anyone, anywhere has claimed as a copyrighted work. Recent versions of Article 13 have gone to great lengths to obscure the fact that it requires filters, but any rule that requires platforms to know what hundreds of millions of people are posting, all the time, and not allow anything that seems like a copyright infringement is obviously about filters.

When Big Content and Big Tech sit down to make a meal out of creators, it doesn't matter who gets the bigger piece.

These filters don't come cheap. Google's comparatively modest version of an Article 13 filter, the YouTube ContentID system, cost $60 million to develop and tens of millions more to maintain, and it can only compare videos to a small database of copyright claims from a trusted group of rightsholders. It would cost hundreds of millions of Euros to develop a filter that could manage every tweet, Facebook update, YouTube comment, blog post, and other form of expressive speech online to ensure that it's not a match for a crowdsourced database that any of the Internet's two billion users can add anything to.

Google has hundreds of millions of Euros, and so do Facebook and the other US Big Tech companies. Notably, Europe's struggling online sector — who represent a competitive alternative to US Big Tech — do not. While America’s tech giants would prefer no regulation, they'll happily settle for regulation that's so expensive it clears the field of all possible competitors.

For creators, this is a terrible state of affairs. The consolidation of the online dominance of the Big Tech players won't increase the competitive market for their works — nor will any of the billions squandered on black-box censorship algorithms enrich creators. Instead all that money will go to the tech companies that build and operate the filters.

And since Big Content will have the only direct lines into Big Tech to get wrongly censored material restored, creators will find themselves more hemmed in.

When Big Content and Big Tech sit down to make a meal out of creators, it doesn't matter who gets the bigger piece.

Meanwhile, for everyone else, the Directive will mean that all of our non-entertainment expression will be liable to being blocked by the copyright algorithms, and since the Internet is how we take care of our health, do our jobs, get our educations, fall in love, stay in touch with our families, and participate in civic and political life, all of that will be risked on an absurd bet that slightly tilting the balance between two giant industrial sectors will make a little more money trickle down to artists.

This "clarification" of the Copyright Directive is a whitewash, and an insult to the more than four million Europeans who have opposed the Directive, and the hundreds of MEPs that have so far questioned the direction of the Directive and its terrible proposals.

Europeans have a right and a duty to engage with the EU's processes: here's a way to get in touch with European national lawmakers and tell them to reject Articles 13 and 11.

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