Demonstrations across Europe, petitions to save the Internet, Google threatening to abolish Google news, Wikipedia going dark for 24 hours – Article 13 (renamed Article 17 in the most recent draft of the legislation) of the new Copyright Directive has nevertheless won the majority votes at the EU Parliament on March 26, 2019.
The proposed law aims to reinforce the rights of copyright owners by demanding online platforms to pay publishers for hosting their protected subject-matter on their sites and prohibiting the website users from sharing posts in violation with the copyright reform.
Publishers, notably artists, authors and content creators, are lobbying for the prospective legislation, as they see that with the Internet proving to be the main marketplace for the distribution and access to copyright-protected content, their work has been exploited along the way. Article 17 of the Copyright Directive proposes to tackle this issue by empowering copyright holders to license their rights and be remunerated for the online distribution of their works. Institutions such as GEMA, the German Society for Musical Performing and Mechanical Reproduction Rights, are already doing this by asking those who upload protected content to platforms to compensate the authors. YouTube also has agreements with several companies to license and pay for videos. Though, in the past, there have been frequent breaches.
And this is where Article 17 comes in, by transferring liability to platform companies that monitor and prevent the upload of copyrighted content by parties who do not own it. Creators not only benefit financially from the new legislation – they will also enjoy more publicity, as Internet users looking for a particular topic should now be immediately redirected to the original source.
While these arguments are understandable, there are also concerns and clear criticisms. Opponents of the upcoming legislation fear censorship of the Internet and an end to the freedom of expression. The reason: For Internet platforms it is technically difficult to impossible to manually check the vast amount of content uploaded by users every minute. They will have to depend on content ID systems such as the so-called upload filters. However, such automatic filtering technologies are – by current technical standards – known for their inaccuracies and inability to detect criticism, reviews, caricatures, parodies and pastiches, which at first glance appear to be very close to well-known copyrighted work.
This may propel online platforms to automatically take down legitimately used content to avoid getting into any legal hassles. Or buy licenses for anything the users may upload, which according to former German MEP for the Pirate Party Julia Reda would be an “impossible feat”.
Another issue to consider are the high costs of implementing such content ID systems, which may not be a problem for platform giants such as You Tube and Facebook, but to their competitors, including European startups and SMEs, they represent an insurmountable barrier. Hence, increasing the monopoly already held by these tech giants as the smaller players will not be able to operate within the new laws.
With the implementation of the law, the consequences for modern day communication in Europe will be hard to overlook. The online sharing of memes, photos or GIFs adorned with text that poke fun on a pop cultural phenomenon or social concept, will now be subject to arbitrary censorship. And any memes of known copyrighted works are unlikely to make it online, as current content ID technologies are not advanced enough to distinguish between memes and actual copyrighted material. Reda also predicts that platform companies will be limited with the content they could offer for users accessing the Internet in Europe and may decide to stop their services in Europe, leading to classic geoblocking.
In addition to these fundamental issues, the directive also poses problems for us as an agency in regards to our daily work: For instance, the daily monitoring of media reports may become an ordeal, as media outlets who fail to obtain licensing agreements with third-party platforms, may decide to put up paywalls. Such measures would be extremely restrictive for the communications industry as it will be more difficult to measure the results of campaigns. Moreover, without unhindered access to coverage, it will no longer be possible to respond promptly to false or crisis-triggering reports. There will therefore have to be completely new models for media consumption.
Another aspect that could be affected by the reforms is influencer relations. Influencers will have difficulty keeping their channels alive, as upload filters could drastically change the relevance of classic YouTube influencers and jeopardize their business models. For us as PR professionals, this would eliminate an extremely valuable channel.
On April 9, 2019, the EU member states will vote on whether to proceed with the legislation as planned. It’s still possible that the directive may be overturned by the EU Council, but that would require at least one key country to change its original position. Should the bill pass, member states will have two years to translate the directive into national law. Until then, the discussion on how platform companies will cooperate with publishers as the EU prepare the roll-out the biggest reform in the copyright legislation since 2001, will certainly remain intriguing.
Author: Mai Akkad