September 2018Opinion2018

The EU’s New Copyright Directive Threatens European Freedom of Speech

By Isha Ayesha
Staff Writer

Earlier this month, The European Parliament approved a new directive on digital copyright, says EUR Lex. The directive, named the proposal for the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Copyright in the Digital Single Market passed with 438 Members of Parliament (MEPs) voting in favor for it, and 226 voting against it, while 39 members abstained from the vote.

The legislation essentially tries to initiate copyright laws that will force social media and news platforms to take drastic measures while sharing others’ content. The European Union (EU) believes that the Directive will hence protect the rights and interests of publishers.

While some agree with the EU on this stance and campaign for the smaller journalists who should get a fairer pay, there has also been an uproar against the Directive with claims of infringement of Freedom of Speech.

These critics recognize the policy to be a disastrous process that may reduce, if not end, usage of Sharing Platforms. They especially target Articles 11 of the Directive, claiming it is undemocratic.

Article 11 aims at implementing “Link Taxes” upon social media networks, search engines, blogs, and websites of the kind, which would mean that these sites must obtain a license before linking to any news source. If enforced, ‘Link Taxes’ can offer these news publishers to charge websites like Facebook or Google to link their articles or materials.

However, this Article fails to clarify the degree of copyright that these sites are supposed to obtain. The vagueness of the definition of a “link” leaves much up for interpretation. The particulars of a decent explanation are hence left upon the 28-member states of EU.

Additionally, when Facebook or Google hyperlinks to any news website or blog, they are getting free advertisement and promotion. If Article 11 passes, Facebook and Google may be less inclined to purchase the links.

This will mean that publications who can afford to offer low prices to these bigger platforms can perform well, but for those smaller platforms who cannot do the same will be the only ones to suffer.

On a similar note, as  Futurism, writes, “The EU justifies these changes by claiming it wants to protect content creators in Europe from being taken advantage of by large corporations, such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter.”

This could have been a fair argument had a  letter penned by great internet pioneers, such Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web, not provided a more prudent perspective as backed by the terms in the EU Copyright Directive. He mentions that, “far from only affecting large American Internet platforms… the burden of Article 11 will fall most heavily on their competitors, including European startups and SMEs.”

This Article does not actually protect the rights of the original creators of content, the journalists. Julia Reda, an MEP from Germany, justifies that journalists are not being protected when she notes that, “copyright protects creativity… This law does not establish a new copyright in that sense (belonging to an author), but a ‘neighboring right’ (belonging to the publisher).”

On the other hand, Article 13 will try to bring in Censorship Machines, which will filter all content on sites like Facebook and YouTube to stop copyright infringing materials from being uploaded. If websites fail to comply, they subject themselves to the legal complications that come with hosting copyright infringing content on their sites.

This means that if uploaded content were not verified for copyrighting by the site, it would probably be taken down. However, complications arise in the process of checking copyrights since the verification process breeches an individual’s Freedom of Speech.

To avoid violating the public’s Freedom of Speech, The Directive expects all platforms to obtain licenses for any copyrighted works in the entire world. Even a mammoth such as YouTube is not able to follow through with these standards due to the large volume of content. This will make it even more difficult for let alone smaller websites with limited finances.

These websites would need to comb through any uploaded content, which is expensive and counts as an invasion of privacy. Just imagine waiting 33 hours for Instagram to check for copyright infringement when trying to upload a picture you uploaded. Yes, it would be that bad.

Naturally, the Directive has experienced its fair share of hostility from various platforms. Critics have condemned the policy to be a grave violation of many fundamental human rights and an expensive and unnecessary legislation.

In conclusion, EU’s Copyright Directive Policy is not only infringing freedom of speech, it is also redundant and does not solve any issues that it claims  to solve. All that can be hoped for now is that the final vote in January 2019 does not fall in its favor or the Internet could be getting a lot more complicated than it already is.

One thought on “The EU’s New Copyright Directive Threatens European Freedom of Speech

  • Saswati Dash

    Very well lwritten Isha. Contemporary views are praiseworthy.

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