Members of the European Parliament have voted to approve new web copyright rules and regulations that have been described by a prominent privacy organization as an “extinction-level” event.
And even members of the lawmaking body are beginning to issue warnings about the plans, which still need approval from member nations and the European Commission.
CNN reported Wednesday the vote “is a major setback for Big Tech,” and some experts believe it could “lead to the closure of Google News.”
Axel Voss, a German lawmaker who insisted that the new restrictions are needed, called the vote a “good sign.”
Eleonora Rosati, a lawyer and copyright expert at the University of Southampton, told CNN the ultimate impact depends on how specific the final version of the legislation is and how it’s interpreted.
“If a law is not clear, that’s great news for lawyers, but it is problematic because it creates uncertainty,” she said. “[The warnings] are correct, but exaggerated.”
Techcrunch listed some of those warnings.
Julia Reda of the Greens/EFA group said it will make illegal “perfectly legal content like parodies and memes.”
“Today’s decision is a severe blow to the free and open internet,” she said. “By endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.”
She continued: “Five years after the ‘link tax’ came into force in Germany, no journalist or publisher has made an extra penny, startups in the news sector have had to shut down and courts have yet to clear up the legal uncertainty on exactly where to draw the line,” she added. “The same quagmire will now repeat at the EU level – no argument has been made why it wouldn’t, apart from wishful thinking.”
Techcrunch also reported: “MEP Marietje Schaake also expressed disappointment, telling us: ‘The Parliament squandered the opportunity to get the copyright reform on the right track. This is a disastrous result for the protection of our fundamental rights, ordinary internet users and Europe’s future in the field of artificial intelligence. We have set a step backwards instead of creating a true copyright reform that is fit for the 21st century.'”
Said MEP Catherine Stihler, “It will stifle free speech and create barriers of entry to the market for European start-ups.”
The privacy group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said: “These extreme, unworkable proposals represent a grave danger to the internet. The link tax means that only the largest, best-funded companies will be able to offer a public space where the news can be discussed and debated. The censorship machines are a gift to every petty censor and troll (just claim copyright in an embarrassing recording and watch as it disappears from the Internet!), and will add hundreds of millions to the cost of operating an online platform, guaranteeing that Big Tech’s biggest winners will never face serious competition and will rule the internet forever.”
The organization warned, “It can only be called an extinction-level event for the internet as we know it.”
The changes are proposed to the 17-year-old copyright regulations for the 28 member states of the EU.
There had been relatively little controversy until Voss quietly changed the text of the directive to reintroduce two long-discarded proposals — Article 11 and Article 13, which had been dismissed by the EU’s own experts, EFF said.
Under Article 11, “online services are banned from allowing links to news services on their platforms unless they get a license to make links to the news.”
Article 13 states: “Anyone who allows users to communicate in public by posting audio, video, stills, code, or anything that might be copyrighted — must send those posts to a copyright enforcement algorithm. The algorithm will compare it to all the known copyrighted works (anyone can add anything to the algorithm’s database) and censor it if it seems to be a match,” EFF reported.
But EFF said the new rules would require billions in expenditures, and only the biggest companies could pay.
Similar legislation already has failed in Spain and Germany, and Raegan MacDonald, EU principal at Mozilla, said the EU measure is poorly conceived.
“I think there’ll probably be a lot of negative implications that we haven’t even thought of right now because the system is so confusing and so ill thought out. There’s no upside to it. I think we’ll see a lot of damaging effects there,” she said in The Next Web article.
“People want access to quality news and creative content online,” Google said in a statement after the vote. “We’ve always said that more innovation and collaboration are the best way to achieve a sustainable future for the European news and creative sectors.”
The Computer and Communications Industry Association, an industry group whose members include Amazon, eBay and Pandora, also campaigned against it.
The parliament had rejected the same plans just a few weeks ago. Voss did amend his plans to allow for links and created an exception for small businesses in Article 13.
But one MEP even interrupted the vote to denounce the procedures as a “strike” against freedom of speech.
In the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act requires publishers to take down copyrighted works when they are published by those who don’t hold the rights. But EFF said there needs to be a verification process.
“You can’t walk into a cinema, point at the screen, declare ‘I own that,’ and get the movie shut down!” the group explained.
The current system also has been so extreme that a person tried to post silence online and triggered a copyright claim.
Under Europe’s plan, the EFF explained: “Bad actors could use armies to bots to block millions of works at a go (for example, jerks could use bots to bombard the databases with claims of ownership over the collected works of Shakespeare, adding them to the blacklists faster than they could possibly be removed by human moderators, making it impossible to quote Shakespeare online).”
“But more disturbing is targeted censorship: politicians have long abused takedown to censor embarrassing political revelations or take critics offline, as have violent cops and homophobic trolls.
“But under Article 13, everyone gets to play wholesale censor, and every service has to obey their demands: just sign up for a ‘rightsholder’ account on a platform and start telling it what may and may not be posted. Article 13 has no teeth for stopping this from happening: and in any event, if you get kicked off the service, you can just pop up under a new identity and start again.”