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The EU's new copyright laws threaten to destroy the internet

The EU's new copyright laws will force all websites to check all posts to see if anything ever published might be a copyright violation. That will include photos, videos, words, tweets, memes, source code -- you name it.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Do you like sharing your favorite music videos like Old Crow Medicine Show's Wagon Wheel? Do you use Twitter to track news stories like this one about President Trump? Do you link to interesting stories on Facebook? Well, if the latest version of the EU Copyright Directive is passed by the European Parliament, you may not do any of the above. The directive will kill the internet as we know it.

Also: European Union prepares to wreck internet with new copyright law

Two poisonous articles

The Directive on Copyright contains two poisonous articles: Article 11 and Article 13. The first requires news aggregator sites to pay publishers if the site uses more than "single words or very short extracts" from a story. While big sites like Google News, Huffington Post, and MSN News are the main target, any site can be hit by this law.

So, for example, Rotten Tomatoes would have to pay a fee for every review for every movie it links. Or, if you had a site linking to Marvel Cinematic Universe movie rumors, you'd be on the hook as well. Or, if you just shared a link to the latest Avengers Endgame story on Reddit, you might be in trouble.

The web is built from links

Indeed, I would argue that it was by making it easy to link to other content that the web quickly outdistanced its early internet predecessors such as Archie, Gopher, and WAIS. In a desperate attempt to seize revenue from news aggregation sites, the EU will dig up the web's very foundations.

Of course, Google can pay for news links. But how many smaller sites can do this? Besides, do you really want Google to decide what news you can see? Even Google's not crazy about that idea. Richard Gingras, Google's VP of news, recently blogged:

"Effectively, companies like Google will be put in the position of picking winners and losers. … The proposed rules will undoubtedly hurt diversity of voices, with large publishers setting business models for the whole industry. This will not benefit all equally."

Or, Google might do what it did in Spain after that country passed a tax on news links: It closed down Google News Spain. If Google doesn't think it's worth the money, will anyone else? I doubt it. As a journalist, I want to be paid. Article 11 will hurt, more than help, news publications. 

But, as bad as Article 11 is, Article 13 is worse. As Cory Doctorow wrote in the Electronic Frontier FOundation (EFF):

"Under the final text, any online community, platform or service that has existed for three or more years, or is making €10,000,001/year or more, is responsible for ensuring that no user ever posts anything that infringes copyright, even momentarily. This is impossible, and the closest any service can come to it is spending hundreds of millions of euros to develop automated copyright filters."

It's not just European companies

Any company that has a site with European readers can expect to get smacked by this.

Now, in the US, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, helps guarantee free speech on the internet with its "safe harbor" provision. It reads: 

"No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

Article 13 flips this on its head. Anytime you post anything that might be copyrighted on commercial site of real size, that site can be sued for your post. So, for example, if you posted a cute cat photo to Instagram or Pinterest, and someone claimed it was copyrighted, the site gets hit by a bill with a threat of lawsuit.

Can photo-sharing sites, just as one example, even survive this existential threat? I wonder. The big ones can, but smaller sites? They'll be dead.

Or, to pick another example, some people love to stream their video game play on sites like Twitch. For some elite players, this is more than fun. They make well over $1 million a year steaming their games. Under Article 13, game streaming could be throttled or even forbidden. In a note to its streamers, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear, encouraged them to protest Article 13:

"Because Article 13 makes Twitch liable for any potential copyright infringement activity with uploaded works, Twitch could be forced to impose filters and monitoring measures on all works uploaded by residents of the EU. This means you would need to provide copyright ownership information, clearances, or take other steps to prove that you comply with thorny and complicated copyright laws."

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Copyright filters

How good are copyright filters? Not very. Julia Reda, a European Parliament member and Copyright Directive opponent, wrote: 

"Upload monitoring software cannot tell infringement apart from legal uses like parody, specifically enabled by exceptions and limitations to copyright. Filters also frequently malfunction. As a result, legal content will be taken down." Besides, she continued, these filters are "what amounts to surveillance technology."

These copyright filter systems are also, to be kind, less than perfect. In a September EFF story,  Doctorow wrote: 

"The most well-known of the bunch is YouTube's Content ID system, which cost $60,000,000 to build, and which works by filtering the audio tracks of videos to categorise them." Even with this best-of-breed system, "legitimate works are censored by spurious copyright claims: NASA gets blocked from posting its own Mars rover footage; classical pianists are blocked from posting their own performances, birdsong results in videos being censored, entire academic conferences lose their presenters' audio because the hall they rented played music at the lunch-break—you can't even post silence without triggering copyright enforcement."

Copyright trolls

You can also be certain that copyright trolls will claim copyrights to works they don't actually own to rip off both content-containing websites and users. One such company, RightHaven, has brought over 200 copyright infringement lawsuits in Nevada federal court against anyone who ever posted content anywhere from Las Vegas Review-Journal stories. 

RightHaven went out of business after being spanked in the courts. But you can count on dozens of copyright trolls following their business plan if Article 11 is passed. It's just too easy.

What you can do

If you care about the internet, step up. Keep it from being strangled by these draconian laws. Both Article aren't law yet. You can still help stop them from ever becoming law by signing this petition against the Directive. Or, if you're a EU citizen, you call your MEP.

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