Two proposed European copyright laws were voted on and passed on June 20th that could end internet freedom once and for all. Although the Copyright Directive has snuck up on the general public, it’s been in the works for quite a while and the reverberations if voted into law will be felt worldwide.
Article 13 copyright proposal forces websites to install upload filters that would automatically censor anything regarded as a copyright violation. This means images, audio, video, code, photos, text and other media would have to be scanned using “content recognition technologies” before being published on a platform-even the written word. Article 11 was also voted on, which imposes a “link tax”,where even the shortest snippets of news articles must be licensed.
This doesn’t simply effect social media sites, or larger media platforms, but affects the individual internet user. Meme makers, remixers, live streams and the average video uploader on YouTube, all would be affected.
One of the larger issues with these automated systems is that they’re not able to distinguish between sarcasm, criticism and commentary. What humans consider to be a sarcastic meme could be flagged as “hateful” content by automated software, and deny the user to use/post the meme. This, in turn will create an issue of false positives being flagged as content that violates their standards of what the system considers acceptable material. With no ability to identify context, the automated copyright flagging systems will likely remove important content because of appearances of copyrighted material that it picks up in the background of images and videos. For example, if a motorist drives by during an interview and the software picks up the music being played in the car, it could flag the entire video for copyright infringement, even though it was accidental and unintended.
Are we really turning over our 1st amendment rights to AI? Where AI is left to decipher what’s considered insulting or hateful? An emotionless, automated system will be left to judge the context of words, videos and images? This will not end well for anyone other than the large media outlets who already have a monopoly established and who can essentially control the content they want pushed on their sites, rather than open and free information being shared through taxing and censorship algorithms.
Researchers at the University College London (UCL) have created an algorithm that picks up “hateful words” and memes that will essentially block users from uploading the content to sites worldwide. Their research included the influence of memes as well as how they’re made and shared online. Not surprising, they found that most memes were published on two main sites, 4chan’s “politically incorrect” forum called /pol/, and the subreddit r/the_donald. Neither of these two sites are particularly known for their “left-wing” ideologies.
Their analysis of popular and diverse memes found “that racist memes are extremely common in fringe Web communities.” “We also find a substantial number of politics-related memes on both mainstream and fringe Web communities, supporting media reports that memes might be used to enhance or harm politicians.” “Finally, we use Hawkes processes to model the interplay between Web communities and quantify their reciprocal influence, finding that /pol/ substantially influences the meme ecosystem with the number of memes it produces, while the_donald has a higher success rate in pushing them to other communities.”
A slew of more than 70 architects and pioneers of the internet sent an open letter to the President of the European Parliament stressing their concerns over what Article 13 would do to the Internet as we know it today. “By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”
Article 11 proposal will institute a sort of “link tax” which would require all users to get a licence from the publisher just to post snippets of an article. Screenshots of the article also wouldn’t be allowed to be posted without a licence or you would be sued for copyright violations. Even short and 100% factual headlines would require licensing. As of today, copyright is held by the individual authors of articles. Publishers have the right to license and enforce the copyright of articles they publish, but the current law does not touch the freedom to use links.
Article 11 would ultimately discourage those who use the internet to distribute news, with the user not wanting to embark on the nightmare of such an online tightrope that users would have to walk each time they wanted to share a link to a news article. Larger sites like Facebook and Google would have the power to negotiate favorable rates, but smaller media sites would hold no such clout. The tax on linking would enable larger sites to effectively silence any critics which would result in even more censorship.These laws, if passed will not single out a select few, or even a certain demographic. This will affect everyone, no matter what your political affiliation.
The European Parliament voted in favor of both articles between June 20th and 21st and they could become law as early as July. Article 13 and Article 11 were approved by the JURI committee yesterday morning but will not become official legislation until passed by the entire European Parliament in a plenary vote. With no such timetable for when the vote may take place, it will likely happen between December of this year and the first half of 2019.
Although the decision of the EU’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI) was more than disheartening, Parliament has received an enormous outpouring of backlash via emails, texts and phone calls. Joe McNamee, executive director of digital rights association EDRi told The Verge, “I was told that the volume of calls, emails and texts everyone in the Parliament has been getting has led people not in the [JURI] committee to start getting worried, says McNamee.” “This momentum is pushing down the likely majority [in the European Parliament] every day.”
Jim Killock, executive director of the Open Rights Group argued in a separate letter “Article 13 must go. The EU Parliament will have another chance to remove this dreadful law.” Killock added, “The EU Parliament’s duty is to defend citizens from unfair and unjust laws MEPs must reject this law, which would create a Robo-copyright regime intended to zap any image, text, meme or video that appears to include copyright material, even when it is entirely legal material.”
Closed-door discussions between EU legislators and member states (also known as “trilogue negotiations”),will decide the fate of the Copyright Directive along with the plenary vote by the European Parliament. These have the intention of speeding up the process of adopting new laws, but some critics say they’re undemocratic and vague. If the trilogues proceed, it will increase the chances that Articles 13 and 11 will become law.
If legislation is passed in its current form, it would be devastating to everyone who uses the Internet, essentially turning the internet into a “tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” warns experts Tim Berners-Lee and Jimmy Wales.
The hope lies in persuading EU lawmakers to vote against the law, which may be a possibility considering they face re-election to the European Parliament in May of next year.
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