EU approves “link tax” and “censorship machines” for a final vote

Digital freedom
2 mins
A chain link with a label saying "+ tax"

On Wednesday, the European Union approved its controversial Copyright Directive for a final vote in January 2019. If passed, the bill would permanently damage the way we use the internet.

How will the Copyright Directive censor the internet?

Introduced in 2016, the European Commission published their Copyright Directive in an attempt to modernize the EU’s copyright law. Included in the current version of the directive are three articles that seek to control the flow of information online.

1. News aggregators can no longer freely link and share content

Article 11 will force news aggregators and platforms like Reddit, Facebook, and Google News to pay for a license to publish shared articles and content. Advocates for this provision include traditional news outlets who argue that linking to their content should only be allowed if the aggregator paid for the content.

If passed, these outlets will be allowed to charge extortionate rates for their content or forbid sharing and quoting content altogether. News aggregators will have to become increasingly selective about the sites they choose to link to and limit what they share, which in turn limits the amount of information the humble user can access.

Previous attempts at pushing licenses on news aggregators have backfired spectacularly. When Spain and Germany tried similar legislation back in 2014, Google responded by just de-listing German and Spanish news sites from their index, heavily reducing web traffic to these publishers, hurting the very news organizations their law tried to protect. If Article 11 is implemented, we will likely witness something messier.

2. A copyright filter will monitor anything you share online

Perhaps the most damaging language in the directive lies in Article 13, which proposes an automated copyright detection system that can monitor and flag content deemed an infringement.

The logistics of this would cripple smaller platforms which would have to work with all the rightsholders claiming copyright infringements proactively, requiring considerable resources.

If YouTube‘s error-prone Content ID system is anything to go by, any attempt to implement this on a state level will be nothing short of catastrophic. From copyright trolls claiming ownership over intellectual property to the frenetic claims of fair-use works (such as remixes, memes, and public domain works) as copyright infringement, the overwhelming number of reports will undoubtedly deter platforms and their content creators from starting costly legal battles.

There is no penalty for incorrect copyright claims planned.

3. Your photos and videos of sports matches are copyright violations

According to Article 12a, only the sports organizer will be allowed to share and publish photos and videos of their games and matches. All your selfies and handheld videos of your memories watching a game will equate to a copyright violation and taken down.

Julia Reda, an MEP who opposes the directive, summarizes the consequences of this article perfectly:

“Fans are what makes sport valuable in the first place … – this new right would be a blatant attack on sports organisers’ greatest supporters.”

How do we stop the destruction of the internet as we know it?

There’s no way to sugarcoat this: Wednesday’s approval makes any significant backtracking on these articles incredibly difficult.

As EFF’s Cory Doctorow outlines in the EU’s timeline for this bill, it’s likely the directive will pass without major amendments, meaning all three articles outlined above will pass into law.

The only realistic way to reclaim our internet freedoms is to vote for someone who opposes this directive. Elections are coming up in the EU, and if the increasing momentum to restore Net Neutrality in the U.S. is anything to go by, something similar may be possible in the EU.

Ceinwen focused on digital privacy, censorship, and surveillance, and has interviewed leading figures in tech.