Enough talk, the European Parliament has finally done something. They have just passed the much-debated Copyright Directive – the EU’s attempt to bring copyright law into the modern online era with a “link tax” and an “upload filter.” The Directive could dramatically alter the way you search for information and share pictures. Depending on how the Directive is applied in the various member states, this could make the upheaval from GDPR seem like a walk in the park.
Links and uploads are the target
Attention has most closely centered on two parts of the Directive – Article 11 and Article 13. Article 11 is popularly known as the “link tax” for its efforts to limit sites and news aggregators such as Google News and their ability to freely post links and snippets of information without needing to buy a license for the material’s use and reproduction. Article 13 is known as the “upload filter” for pushing sites to filter out and removing copyrighted materials (think YouTube).
The European Parliament is billing this as a move needed to “ensure fair pay for artists and journalists in today’s digital world.” Their hope is to level the playing field between huge American platforms and miserable, starving European creatives. In particular, German EPP member Axel Voss has hyped up this up as a protective action for the authors, performers, singers, songwriters, all of them all copyright-holders. “They are all in a miserable situation: their work is used by huge platforms who make a lot of profit with it,” he stated.
Julia Rega, another EPP member has a dramatically different opinion, describing it as a “severe blow to the free and open internet.” She stated that by “endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.”
It’s all about the balance of power
The Directive’s goal is to change the balance of power in the internet – weakening the positions of platforms such as Google which aggregate information and news without paying for it, while also strengthening the position of European publishers and their content generators. “Huge American platforms make money whilst our creatives die out,” said Voss. Politically speaking, it was probably better for Voss to speak about creatives and artistic types than the publishers that employ them.
Just the links, not the facts
Article 11 follows on the attempts of Germany and Spain to have a “link tax” which gives publishers the right to licensing fee if a platform uses their content. Again, Parliament has stressed that this concept of a “link tax” is not quite right – platforms will still be able to freely use the hyperlink and their own produced copy – they just can’t draw text from the article as is done now.
It’s (not) all about the meme
The new Directive will likely not impact the ability of individuals to create their own variants of copyrighted materials such as memes, but it certainly could influence how or if these memes can be shared. In an interesting bit of Orwellian doublespeak, Parliament has said that memes will remain covered by a copyright exemption, but that the platforms will be held more responsible for filtering posted content. This seems to imply that people will still be able to create all the funny memes they want – they just might not be able to share them via an internet platform.
Better get buckled up
Exactly how all of this will work in practice remains unseen. However, what is clear is that a disruptive change is coming, the position of the largely American platforms such as Google and Facebook is being challenged, and that this change will go far beyond the borders of the European.