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Explainer: Why tech experts think the EU's proposed copyright law will 'screw up the whole internet'

Internet users have been warned that even their beloved memes are at risk.

Image: Shutterstock

THIS WEEK THE European Union took the first step in passing its controversial copyright directive, which critics have said could seriously threaten the digital world and how it operates.

The parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee narrowly passed the reform, with 13 votes in favour and 11 against in a ballot that was kept secret given the bitter divisions on the issue. This means the Copyright Directive is now in its final form.

On Tuesday, tech news website Gizmodo said the measures would “upend the web in every way that we know it”.

“Memes, news, Wikipedia, art, privacy, and the creative side of fandom are all at risk of being destroyed or kneecapped.”
Wired.com also suggested the proposed directive could “screw up the whole internet”.

What are people concerned about?

There are two particular parts of the directive that are worrying tech experts – Articles 11 and 13.

  • Article 11 would force online platforms like Google and Facebook to pay for links to news content they use. Major publishers have pushed for the reform, seeing it as an urgently needed solution against a backdrop of free online news that has decimated earnings for traditional media companies.
  • Article 13 would require websites to monitor copyrighted material and would make them legally liable for any copyrighted material shared by users.

It is Article 13, in particular, that has tech experts and companies feeling uneasy. Critics have warned that this will lead to blanket censorship by tech giants like YouTube Instagram and Twitter who may be forced to use automated blocking.

In 2016, Google’s head of global public policy Caroline Atkinson said if text, video, images and other content has to be filtered by online services, it would “effectively turn the internet into a place where everything uploaded to the web must be cleared by lawyers before it can find an audience”.

Gizmodo has warned that even the internet’s beloved memes are at risk as the person who took the original photo may be able to file complaints against any platform that allows it to be used without permission.

Axel Voss, Rapporteur of the European Parliament for the Copyright Directive however told TNW he believes the change would greatly benefit European citizens.

“I feel that the criticism hasn’t been really balanced and not based on the actual text we’ve proposed. That’s why all these claims of censorship, upload filters and link tax are all a total exaggeration.”

He said the proposal would simply make it mandatory to prevent copyright infringement which is something that is already included in EU law.

Defenders of the directive have pointed out that each EU country will be able to translate it into their own individual laws – that is why the wording has been left vague.

This means it will not be possible to know the full extent of the changes until after the directive has gone through the entire process and countries start drafting their own legislation to fit in with the directive.

The next step now is a plenary vote on the proposal by the full Parliament which is expected at the end of this year or the start of 2019.

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