April 04, 2018 | Henry Prince

Filters are for coffee and water, not copyright.

The EU’s draft Directive on Copyright is a massive problem. It is an attempt by the EU to reform copyright legislation - in practice it effectively involves a huge ‘censorship machine’ which would filter all uploads from people in the EU to determine if they are infringing on copyright.


It would be the largest internet filter Europe has ever seen - reading every single piece of text uploaded to the internet, and watching every video. An algorithm will decide whether what you want to post will be seen or not.

In practice, the vague wording of the draft Directive would make a huge number of online platforms uncertain about whether or not they are breaking the law. This means that many platforms are likely to err on the side of aggressive filtering rather than getting embroiled in long and extremely expensive legal battles.

Not all user-generated content sites are Google/Youtube. Many fringe culture sites, like LGBTQ+ dating apps are smaller operations that would sooner limit their users’ activities rather than risk being taken to court. Wouldn’t this homogenise the rich cultural landscape that we benefit from in the EU? Surely, in this age of fierce fighting for gender equality, we shouldn’t be allowing new laws that unfairly restrict the activities of minority groups.

Sites wishing to stay active and comply with these new regulations, could face the crippling costs of implementing the new measures, such as the cost of scanning and identifying all images or songs uploaded (very expensive content identification technology) and getting permission from the owners to host and give access to all the content. It seems to be a lose-lose scenario for sites that have enabled people all over the world to communicate and share content on this unprecedented scale.

The current system regulating copyright infringement online is a negligence-based liability regime. This means, so long as platforms take action when notified of illegal content, they can’t be held liable for it. This ‘notice and take down’ system places the responsibility of tackling infringement on rights owners and leaves platforms open for users to communicate in a free and uninhibited way. Article 13 would flip that system and place the burden of monitoring user-uploads on the platforms. Social media sites, video sharing sites and even dating sites would be liable for any unlicensed uploads on their servers.

But what prompted this new directive? The major music corporations are upset because Youtube is the biggest streaming site, but the revenue from Youtube is significantly less than other streaming services like Spotify. The trouble is, their arguments never acknowledge that Youtube isn’t just a place for streaming music, it’s a platform where you can learn pretty much any skill. Plus, Youtube provides added value to musicians by having the biggest audience (by far) and by being a video platform. Why should Youtube pay the same as Spotify when it has that extra all-important feature? I would certainly argue that current digital content ecosystems are flawed, BUT this new directive is a totally barbaric solution.

The changes pushed for by the music industry would have much broader and far more severe implications than the damages they allegedly suffer currently. Article 13 applies to ALL types of content that people upload on the internet; this means from the industry-leading content creators – the award winners, to all the empowered user-creators who create and remix in their spare time. ALL types of content also means anything protected by copyright i.e. photos, videos, podcasts, software code, articles, music recordings and so on. Everything.

Making a mental list of the sites that host any one of these types of content as uploaded by users is like trying to list all 50 states in the United States; it takes ages and you never finish because there are always some you can’t think of, but that you know exist. Innocent bystanders like Wikipedia hosting text and images, could be subjected to these new rules. Wikipedia is a not-for-profit, how can it be fair to impose these heavy burdens onto the world’s first free online information repository?

In practice, this new directive could also affect what we choose to say online. Exceptions to copyright that allow us to make limited uses of works without permission, exist for our benefit. They include research, private study, commentary, criticism, education, parody and more. Article 13 would obscure these exceptions, which stem from fundamental rights like the right to education and freedom of expression. Sound good for democracy? The fact is, an automated content filter can’t tell the difference between someone uploading for review and someone just uploading. By placing the burden of policing content on platforms, we would see them tighten their belts and over-compensate by blocking legitimate content, to protect themselves from lawsuits.

The killer is, all these risks and dangers come from a set of laws lobbied for by music honchos who mainly have it in for Youtube. But Youtube is already complying - it already has licenses with rights owners, Content ID technology in place, and usage data reports for creators. So… will the reforms even affect their newfound nemesis? It seems as though they’re pushing forward, crossing their fingers and toes in the hopes of getting a bigger slice of the Youtube pie, without giving a second thought to the collateral damage.

That’s why the Open Rights Group are asking you to write to tell your MEP to SAY NO to Article 13!