By Giannis Triantafyllidis and Josh Duggan
26 March 2019
In the midst of the Brexit madness and general mayhem of the EU Election period, laws are being debated and passed. According to some, they have the potential to “kill” the internet. Based on modernising copyright laws for the digital age, the new directive is heavily debated, and now finally, a law.
So, what are the controversial parts of the European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market? Articles 11 and 13 are the major sticking points, relating to the reproduction of copyrighted content.
Article 11 allows publishers such as news organizations to ask for remuneration when their content is posted elsewhere, with the obvious targets being news aggregators such as Facebook and Google News when they feature a link to a story.
The argument behind it is that the news sites themselves receive less traffic if the consumer has already read a large portion of their story before having to visit the site. However, the obvious counter to this is that aggregators are the main source of traffic for many sites, and their closure would disproportionately affect smaller publishers.
Article 13, passed by the Parliament on Tuesday, appears merely a tightening of current rules rather than widespread changes, the changes will alter the balance of power in the favour of rights holders. It does so largely by making hosting and video-on-demand platforms such as YouTube responsible for the copyright infringements found on their sites.
What are the main issues?
Those in favour of the directive simply say that they’re helping enforce the remuneration that creators deserve for the use of their work by third parties, and fair use of content will be protected. However, some believe that it’s a power that will be abused, and that the measures required for sites to enforce it are nearly impossible to implement effectively.
With the potential new laws set to entirely shift the balance of power in copyright disputes, it’s highlighting the complex nature of fair use. “The problem is that you can’t really rely on the possibilities of AI technology on basic human rights such as freedom of speech and expression. ” says Kypselidou Kyriaki, a Greek Lawyer specializing in copyright infringement. Speaking in Greek, she makes the point that this law has the potential to cause multiple new issues. “The issue here goes further than the copyright problem, it’s focused on the fact that an enormous amount of power is going to be gathered into the hands of the few… This legislation, I’m afraid, although it presents a valid problem and a solution, it may end up to new issues and new problems, which in turn could be against basic human rights”
With so much confusion around what exactly the changes will mean for the future of the internet, there’s little wonder that a frenzy has been struck up online. The EU has found major opposition in YouTube, with CEO Susan Wojcicki being one of the most vocal voices against the directive.
In a fiercely worded statement, Wojcicki denounced the proposed changes, “Article 13 as written, threatens to shut down the ability of millions of people – from creators like you to everyday users – to upload content to platforms like YouTube”.
As with all directives, these are simply frameworks that the EU is voting whether to adopt; member states have the final say on how it works in their individual markets. It’s argued that this lessens the impact of the vague language in the bill, as individual countries can nut out the final wording to fit their own laws, but others believe it only muddies the waters even further.
German MEP Axel Voss, of the European People’s Party
Rapporteur for the bill in the EU Parliament, Axel Voss, a German MEP from the European People’s Party, doesn’t see the vague language as a problem, “We have 28 member states with 28 different legislations, 28 different legal structures with 28 different mentalities, and that’s why we couldn’t have done the kind of regulation for full harmonizing the situation, because each on is very proud of their own way… It [the effect of the directive] depends on how wise the publishers are”
What Does This Mean For YouTube?
YouTube has singled out the vagueness of the proposed bills, and not necessarily the bills, as the biggest threat to the current state of the internet. The media company claims that video-on-demand sites cannot possibly be held accountable for everything their users upload on the platform.
YouTube has indicated that they believe Article 13 is an attack to the creative side of the platform. Specifically, through their own statement and also throughout countless user-generated videos, they’ve made mention of their belief that the new regulations will severely harm “transformative content”, such as parody, commentary, and even news coverage, since most of this content is not licensed.
YouTube’s biggest creators have been vocal on the topic of fair use as well, having voiced their concerns. Phillip DeFranco runs a news-oriented channel on the site that’s received over two billion views. He’s been vocal against the directive, claiming their current from will directly interfere with his ability to make videos as he does now, threatening his company and livelihood.
Voss of the EPP however, believes that opposition to it simply boils down to money, with YouTube amongst the sites that are stirring up an army to fight their cause for them.
“The fear [of Article 13] is not justified… Of course, I’m not surprised that these companies [YouTube, Facebook] are against it, because they don’t want to pay more money, the fair remuneration to everyone. Because now they pay just a “tip” for everything, and of course they don’t want to be liable for everything that is going to be uploaded on their platform.”
“We have a kind of totally imbalanced situation between the rightsholders and the platforms, and therefore it seems necessary to get a better-balanced situation.”
Article 11 Vs Social Media
From a number-based point of view, the heavily debated Article 11 seems to assume that as soon as it has been implemented, consumers will head straight to the original source for find content, rather than being directed there; However, social media platforms like Facebook and aggregators like Google News, who both oppose the change, are one of the biggest traffic sources for media and news-oriented sites.
Although a large number of users simply read the titles and the snippet links of the articles on aggregators, a considerable amount of social media users are only informed about the existence of said articles by using the platforms. It seems illogical that when news breaks, traffic to the news websites to read about it would be maintained if social media and aggregators have less power to inform people about it.
Helga Trupel, MEP for Germany and member of the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance disagrees with the online community on the issue, “We have for years the argumentation from Google that It’s only a win-win (when they share articles)… But we have studies that claim that between 50 and 60% of people don’t go to the news homepages, but rather read the snippets. So, the advertisement goes to the general company of Google and not the authors. What about the future of quality journalism?”
Although the full effect of the directive won’t be fully known until its implementation, those behind it are already passing the blame for its potential effects; the EU are telling us that they are merely handing power to rightsholders, it will be their fault if the power is misused, not the EU’s. Voss has stated that “We are simply giving them the chance to protect themselves, we are just legislators, it’s up to them [the publishers and rightsholders] to use these tools accordingly.”
Those behind the bill believe that companies like YouTube and Facebook are abusing their responsibilities and need to be held accountable in the future. Thus, the only solution is to hand the power to the other side, with publishing companies apparently far more worthy of wielding the mace. But if we’ve seen unregulated monopolies form on one side, why should we expect any better from the other?