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TODAY’S EU COPYRIGHT VOTE WENT ABOUT AS BADLY as could be feared: MEPs approved articles 11 and 13, meaning that unless member states push back (and good luck with that), it will likely become illegal to link to an article using the headline for that article, and all but the smallest websites will need to install upload filters to weed out copyright-protected content.
The effects? Google News would shut down across the EU and Facebook may well stop handling articles, making it harder for journalists like me to find an audience for our work. Platforms of all sorts that handle user-generated content would likely go out of business, unless they employ automated censorship of the sort that currently isn’t smart enough to tell an actual copyright violation from a parody or meme – and that is frequently used to take down things that don’t actually violate copyright.
Congratulations to all the media organisations that lobbied hard for collective suicide, and farewell to many, many online companies… unless…
All we can hope for now is the restoration of sanity in the trilogue negotiations, that take place behind closed doors between the member states and the EU institutions, or in the final European Parliament vote that will follow it. And I have a couple of suggestions for achieving that end.
Firstly, stop talking about the “link tax”. It is not a tax on links; it is a tax on the text that accompanies links, most notably headlines. Yes, there is some congruence between the effects here – automated content aggregators such as Google News simply cannot rewrite the headlines for every story they link to – and yes, “link tax” is snappy, but hyperlinks are not being outlawed or limited or taxed, and the phrase allows the likes of Axel Voss to claim the opponents of Article 11 are wildly misguided.
What should replace it? “Media killer” springs to mind, as that would be the result of Article 11 passing in this form, but I’m not a marketing guy and I’m sure someone else can come up with something better.
Secondly, regarding Article 13, please stop going on about memes so much. Newsflash: legislators don’t care about memes. They may care about the weighty issues at play here – immature AI, the entrenchment of dangerous censorship mechanisms across the web, the boost that this will give to YouTube over less-well-resourced European rivals – but the meme angle preaches only to the choir.
The situation is deadly serious. The campaign to avert disaster needs to treat it with the gravity it deserves.
PS – A third suggestion just sprang to mind: if Google’s financing of the groups lobbying against Articles 11 and 13 proved to be such a devastating counter-lobbying tool against those groups, maybe stop taking Google’s money? Yes, the company did not have nearly as much influence over this situation as was claimed, but it was an easy claim to make…
ALSO THIS MORNING, THE COMMISSION UNVEILED its long-threatened proposal for a regulation on “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. Here’s the text and here’s my Fortune story on it.
The contentious bit is that the regulation would force the likes of Facebook and YouTube to remove terrorist propaganda within one hour of being ordered to do so by a “competent authority” – the nature of that authority would be up to each member state to decide.
On the one hand, that does beat a situation where the platforms have to remove the content an hour after it being flagged up by any old person – a clear recipe for abuse. But on first skim-read the proposal does look vague enough to raise problems, and it would certainly further encourage the use of upload filters that risk overblocking content. More grease for Article 13’s slippery slope, perhaps.
FACEBOOK HAS AGAIN BEEN TOLD BY A GERMAN COURT that it cannot delete a comment for violating its community standards (but not the law). As happened in a Berlin court in April, a Munich court has sided with a far-right individual to defend their free speech rights.
This time it’s Heike Themel, a politician with the increasingly neofascist AfD party, who made a vaguely threatening comment to someone who, in the context of a discussion about border controls, liked a comment calling her a “Nazischlampe” (Nazi slag). The court said Themel’s words did not qualify as hate speech, so Facebook could not crack down on it.
Essentially, the social network has to be as fair-minded about users’ comments as the German judiciary is. So far, Facebook has been the only target of such rulings – it will be interesting to see whether the idea spreads, because there are big implications for the basic activities of online community moderators.
SPEAKING OF WHICH, FOR THOSE WHO THINK THE COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE justifies Brexit (I’m seeing a lot of that on Twitter today), I give you the UK’s new Online Forums Bill, which would “make administrators and moderators of certain online forums responsible for content published on those forums”.
Goodbye forums, then! See, stupid online legislation isn’t just an EU thing.
IT’S NOT JUST GOOGLE THAT’S AGAINST the “right to be forgotten” being applied across the world, in order to negate the technical possibility that someone in the EU might fire up a VPN and see a link they’re not supposed to see. The European Commission has also come down on Google’s side.
Commission lawyer Antoine Buchet told the Court of Justice of the European Union, which is hearing the case this week, that EU privacy law does not have extraterritorial effect. “It’s intellectually difficult to enter into that logic and give a universal effect to removals,” he said.
In case you need to get up to speed with the case, in which Google is trying to fend off an attempt by French privacy regulator CNIL to have EU privacy law apply across the globe, I wrote an explainer for Fortune.
I ALSO WROTE ABOUT AN INVESTIGATION AGAINST GOOGLE by Arizona’s attorney-general, regarding Google’s false claim to users that turning off Location History on Android phones or iPhones running Google Maps means “the places you go are no longer stored”. As was recently reported, flipping that switch does not stop Google recording where users go, and the company now potentially faces enormous fines under Arizona state consumer protection law.
GOOGLE CAVED TO THE DEMANDS OF THE RUSSIAN authorities that it take down YouTube ads bought by opposition figures. The ads, from Alexey Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, urged people to participate in demonstrations on Sunday, which was the day of local and regional elections across much of Russia.
As I wrote for ZDNet, the authorities claimed that the rallies constituted campaigning activities and were therefore banned on the days of and immediately before the election. Navalny’s crew said that was nonsense, and Google was being duped.
If you’d like me to speak about digital rights at your event or provide advice for your business, drop me an email at email@example.com.
HERE’S A BIG GUARDIAN PIECE ON THE DECENTRALISED WEB – as before, my stance remains that I would in theory love to see it arrive, but there has to be a way to deal with problems such as hate speech and the “right to be forgotten”, otherwise there will be too many legitimate political obstacles to wide adoption.