BY JAMIE FOSTER
On June 20th the EU Parliament will vote on the new Copyright Directive. Contained within the proposals for the directive are two articles that could have a chilling effect on the way the internet operates. Article 11 provides for a ‘link tax.’ This is a tax payable every time anyone links to another source. The idea behind it is to ensure that news organisations get paid for their content. This would mean that if you include a link to an article in a tweet or blog you would be liable to pay the tax. This completely ignores the fact that linking to a source drives traffic to that source and therefore the original copyright holder can already monetise the fact that a link has been posted. It is a crazy tax that can only have the effect of preventing individual users from sharing content with each other. It will also destroy the ability of bloggers and smaller news companies from operating as they won’t be able to afford the tax for linking to a source. The only people to gain will be entirely fake news sites that don’t need to link to other sites because they are making up all of their news.
Meanwhile Article 13 requires all platform operators to be responsible for the copyright of everything posted on their sites. The only way to avoid this responsibility in the event of copyrighted material being posted without the permission of the rights holder is to have done everything possible to avoid this happening. This will involve companies using filters to scan material before it has been uploaded and removing any material that appears to be copyrighted. The online machines that carry out this function are notoriously lacking in sensitivity and will not be able to recognise memes that use copyrighted content quite lawfully under the fair use provisions.
Citizen journalism will be particularly hard hit by these provisions as quoting a news source will not only involve a link tax but will also be hit by the removal of copyrighted content. The only people who will be able to comment on the news will be large news organisations and publishers who will be able to afford the link tax and will be making original material about news items. There is an Orwellian aspect to these proposals as they will make it far more difficult for the individual to be associated with online comment about news stories.
It is maybe unsurprising that a monolithic bureaucracy like the EU has come up with these proposals. Large publishing and news gathering organisations are very happy to see the introduction of any measures that keep the job of news commentary in their domain. They have the size to lobby at an EU level. So far these proposals, made by the EU Commission, have been backed by the EU Council. The only remaining hurdle is a vote in the EU Parliament. When Remainers ask for concrete examples of EU legislation that harms the lives of individual EU citizens this is as good an example as any.
Can you imagine the internet without memes? Removed because, although they are entirely lawful, a pre-filter is not able to recognise them as falling within the ‘fair use’ provisions. Fair use allows for the use of copyrighted material for parody, analysis and comment. Sites like Country Squire Magazine rely on fair use provisions to be able to quote and comment on news from other sources. If a pre-filter removed all reference to quoted material, Country Squire could not operate. This applies to vast numbers of bloggers and smaller news sites. It would also have a devastating effect on Twitter and Facebook. Preventing people from quoting or posting material they wish to share is absurd. It does not help the people who created the content because it prevents it being more widely disseminated. It only has a value to huge commercial publishers who wish to regain a stranglehold on the public discourse.
Alongside the laws contemplated to remove ‘hate speech’ from the internet, these proposals regarding copyright material are a huge attack on free speech. They will limit the individual’s ability to use the internet freely to communicate with one another. They are a protection for the big players from the small and private players in the news-gathering market.
We must do something to try to stop these proposals becoming law. It is imperative that you write to or email your MEP and ask them to oppose these proposals on June 20. The very freedom to use the internet as private individuals is at stake. If these proposals make it into EU law it will be the first step in removing the interactivity of the internet and turning it back into a televisual media which we are supposed to consume as passive monitors rather than active participants. This is a dystopia no one wishes to see come to pass.