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European Union Passes New Legislation to Improve Control over Digital Copyrights

European Union Passes New Legislation to Improve Control over Digital Copyrights
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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, InCyberDefense

On September 12, the European Union (EU) passed a law that could severely stifle freedom of expression on the Internet. Lawmakers in the EU voted on amendments to the JURI Committee’s report on the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.

The JURI Committee is a parliamentary committee on legal affairs. Their vote on this legislation is the most recent response to limit the reach of big tech firms.

The first and perhaps most public recent measure from the EU was the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). This security measure was intended to protect website user privacy and imposes substantial fines on publishers and companies who do not notify users how a company uses their data.

New Legislation Forces Tech Companies to Pay Digital Publishers for Sharing Article Links

In this most recent vote, two provisions to the legislation have caused significant alarm. Article 11, for example, is meant to force large tech companies like Google and Facebook to pay publishers every time a link to an article is shared.

Some experts suggest that this “link tax” would signal the end of Google News in Europe. Supporters of this legislation include musicians, filmmakers and authors who believe the new directive will compensate them for their work.

However, it is not clear how Google and Facebook would respond. They could simply change the way they publish digital news to avoid paying every creative person in Europe, a smart move on their part.

According to the European Digital Media Association (EDiMA), a European trade organization opposed to the legislation, “If you share a news article on Twitter or Facebook, you get a short few lines of text on the article, the title, an image and the link.” EDiMA also notes that the new law could return users to “the days of the early Internet where only links were displayed with no snippet. This could also prevent you from sharing snippets on your own blog, too.”

Internet Content Would Pass through AI Filters under New European Union Law

Another area of concern about the new legislation is Article 13. It forces ALL content uploaded to the Internet to pass through a copyright filter controlled by artificial intelligence (AI). Large tech companies would need to add this filter to their systems.

The negative impact that this would have on the Internet as we know it today cannot be overstated. For instance, sharing your vacation pictures of your trip to the Pyramids of Egypt or the Eiffel Tower could be a problem. You could be blocked from uploading them because the light displays around both are copyright-protected.

In addition, taking a selfie at a sports game would almost certainly get blocked if you happen to catch the stadium, the players or the field in your photo’s background.

Even family events like a wedding video may be blocked because the music in the background is likely copyright-protected.

Internet memes would become be a thing of the past, because many memes are composed using images from film and TV shows. Currently, memes are exempt to copyright protection in many countries because of the parody nature of the medium. However, studies show that software can’t detect humor or parody and upload filters will block them BEFORE they can be uploaded.

Controversial Legislation Could Create a Harsher Internet

Critics say that the new EU legislation will cripple freedom of speech and the flow of information online. According to Vice News, World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales warned in June what passing this legislation could mean: “[It] 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.”

Fortunately, Wednesday’s vote is not the end of the story. Negotiations between politicians and member states will take place — a process called trilogue — before a final vote in the European parliament sometime in 2019.

Until then, both proponents of the legislation and activists will continue to make their voices heard online – at least until a content filter prevents them from doing so.