September 04, 2018 | Mike Morel

We need copyright reform that does not threaten free expression

The controversial Copyright Directive is fast approaching another pivotal vote on 12 September. For the third time in half a year MEPs will decide whether Article 13 - or something even worse - will usher in a new era, where all content is approved or rejected by automated gatekeepers.


Seen through an economic lens the Directive’s journey is viewed as a battle between rights holders and tech giants. Yet a growing chorus of ordinary citizens, Internet luminaries, human rights organisations and creatives have rightly expanded the debate to encompass the missing human dimension.

Open Rights Group opposes  Article 13 - or any new amendments proposing similar ideas - because it poses a real threat to the fundamental right to free speech  online.

Free speech defenders claimed a victory over industry lobbyists this summer when MEPs rejected plans to fast-track the Directive and a lasting triumph is now in reach. UK residents are in an especially strong position to make a difference because many of their MEPs remain undecided. Unlike some other EU states, voting patterns aren’t falling strictly on party lines in the UK.

This time new amendments will be added, and the underlying principles of Article 13 will again face a vote. They include:

Changes to Internet platform liability

If Internet platforms become directly liable for user content, they will become de facto copyright enforcers. This will leave them little choice but to introduce general monitoring of all user content with automated filters. Companies are not fit to police free speech. To avoid penalties they will err on the side of caution and over-block user content.

The Implicit or explicit introduction of upload filters

Everything we know about automated filters shows they struggle to comprehend context. Yet identifying the vital legal exceptions to copyright that enable research, commentary, creative works, parody and more requires a firm grasp of context. An algorithm’s poor judgement will cause innocent speech to be routinely blocked along with copyright violations.

The introduction of general monitoring

General monitoring of all user content is a step backwards for a free and open Internet. It is also technically infeasible to monitor every form of content covered in Article 13's extraordinarily wide mandate which includes text, audio, video, images and software.

Outspoken Article 13 cheerleader Axel Voss MEP said “Censorship machines is not what we intend to implement and no one in the European Parliament wants that.” This is what happens when copyright reform is pursued with little consideration to human rights.

The proposals within Article 13 would change the way that the Internet works, from free and creative sharing, to one where anything can be removed without warning, by computers. This is far too high a price to pay for copyright enforcement. We need a copyright reform which does not sacrifice fundamental human and digital rights.

If you’re a UK resident, please contact your MEP before they vote Wednesday 12 September. You can use our tool to reach them:

https://action.openrightsgroup.org/robocopyright-returns

If you live outside the UK, try this website:

https://saveyourinternet.eu