It has been a stressful time in the huge sphere of the internet, with many users fighting for their rights with the hashtag #saveYourInternet. Some have even abandoned the comforting anonymity online and taken their protests outside. Just after the so-called ‘EU Copyright Directive’ was announced, public protests emerged all over Europe, with many internet users protesting against the loss of their freedom online.
But if freedom is what characterizes this form of digital communication, how will the new laws affect our rights online?
Once again politicians dismissed the young people protesting for their rights as a mob. All opponents were said to be unaware of the real grounds of the copyright laws and their positive impacts. Even the petition to remove the controversial articles signed by thousands of people did not change the minds of the ones in charge. On March 27, 2019, the majority of the members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the laws. But this did not stop young people from protesting and making themselves heard.
It is particularly the disputed Article 13 that worries the opponents of the directive. It holds online services responsible for the copyright-protected content that is posted on their platforms, such as music, pictures, and movies. This could come with many problems.
Even though proponents of the changes claim that Article 13 is not designed to target legitimate uses of content, many fear that the correct distinction will not be possible with current technology. A potential aid for companies having to follow these directions would be the so-called ‘upload filter’. Although already possible for big companies like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, this technology comes with a financial burden for small companies. The mechanism could also be flawed in detecting actual copyrighted content and restrict normal posts. This would lead to a chaotic situation for content creators and also equate to censorship.
Of course, there are also those supporting the new direction. Especially creative contributors to the entertainment industry striving to protect their content. They hope that these changes will give them more validation and even more revenue for their work, but in reality, it is more complex than that.
Currently, copyright protection on the internet is a grey area, meaning that companies can decide whether to claim copyright infringement or not. For this reason, it is possible to share copyrighted content online if one personally contributes to it, for example by speaking while streaming game-play, or using pictures in a different way than originally, giving them a new meaning and using them in a humorous context. This is called ‘fair use’.
But this could change drastically now, endangering the sustenance of many online contributors. The directive could change the structure of the internet in unpredictable ways.
But let’s address memes, the often light-hearted humorous pictures that can go viral within seconds. Article 13 was often dubbed as the ‘meme ban’ even though it excluded them ‘for purpose of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody, and pastiche’ from its terms. Nevertheless, differentiating between copyrighted content that is reposted with bad intentions and content protected by the fair use law, is still difficult. Because who can program software that can do something many people even fail to do: recognize jokes and satirical content?
Influential websites such as YouTube and Google have strongly voiced their criticism regarding the new laws, German Wikipedia has even made their content unavailable for 24 hours, calling for users to protest against the changes. Facebook argued the proposal ‘could have serious, unintended consequences for an open and creative internet’. Some critics have even gone as far as calling the reform a violation of their freedom of expression. But evidently, nothing has convinced the European Parliament sufficiently.
The copyright laws will now be up for interpretation of the EU member states, which are able to implement them in different ways. In case of a Brexit negotiation with a deal, the laws could affect the UK as well.
For now, no one can be absolutely sure about how the directive will influence the internet as we know it, but it will in some ways. Change is nearly always good, but not if it is hindering an Internet benefiting young creators and one that has always welcomed creativity.
Once again protesters’ concerns and especially the young generation demanding their right to a free internet have both partly been dismissed. The vote in favour of the law feels counteractive to the modernization of the Internet. In light of the decision following the strong opposition, young people can’t help but feel overlooked by the European Parliament.