As the EU
advances the new Copyright Directive towards becoming law in its 28 member-states, it's important to realise that the EU's plan will end up censoring the Internet for everyone , not just Europeans.
A quick refresher: Under Article 13 of the new Copyright Directive, anyone who operates a (sufficiently large) platform where people can post works that might be copyrighted (like text, pictures, videos, code, games, audio etc) will have to
crowdsource a database of "copyrighted works" that users aren't allowed to post, and block anything that seems to match one of the database entries.
These blacklist databases will be open to all comers (after all, anyone can create a copyrighted work): that means that billions of people around the world will be able to submit anything to the blacklists, without having to prove that
they hold the copyright to their submissions (or, for that matter, that their submissions are copyrighted). The Directive does not specify any punishment for making false claims to a copyright, and a platform that decided to block someone for
making repeated fake claims would run the risk of being liable to the abuser if a user posts a work to which the abuser does own the rights .
The major targets of this censorship plan are the social media platforms, and it's the "social" that should give us all pause.
That's because the currency of social media is social interaction between users . I post something, you reply, a third person chimes in, I reply again, and so on.
Now, let's take a hypothetical Twitter discussion between three users: Alice (an American), Bob (a Bulgarian) and Carol (a Canadian).
Alice posts a picture of a political march: thousands of protesters and counterprotesters, waving signs. As is
world , these signs include copyrighted images, whose use is permitted under US "fair use" rules that permit parody. Because Twitter enables users to communicate significant amounts of user-generated content, they'll fall within
the ambit of Article 13.
Bob lives in Bulgaria, an EU member-state whose copyright law
does not permit parody . He might want to reply to Alice with a quote from the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov , whose works were translated into English in the late 1970s and are still in copyright.
Carol, a Canadian who met Bob and Alice through their shared love of Doctor Who, decides to post a witty meme from " The Mark of the Rani ," a 1985 episode in which Colin Baker travels back to witness the Luddite protests of the 19th
Alice, Bob and Carol are all expressing themselves through use of copyrighted cultural works, in ways that might not be lawful in the EU's most speech-restrictive copyright jurisdictions. But because (under today's system) the platform typically
is only required to to respond to copyright complaints when a rightsholder objects to the use, everyone can see everyone else's posts and carry on a discussion using tools and modes that have become the norm in all our modern, digital discourse.
But once Article 13 is in effect, Twitter faces an impossible conundrum. The Article 13 filter will be tripped by Alice's lulzy protest signs, by Bob's political quotes, and by Carol's Doctor Who meme, but suppose that Twitter is only required to
block Bob from seeing these infringing materials.
Should Twitter hide Alice and Carol's messages from Bob? If Bob's quote is censored in Bulgaria, should Twitter go ahead and show it to Alice and Carol (but hide it from Bob, who posted it?). What about when Bob travels outside of the EU and
looks back on his timeline? Or when Alice goes to visit Bob in Bulgaria for a Doctor Who convention and tries to call up the thread? Bear in mind that there's no way to be certain where a user is visiting from, either.
The dangerous but simple option is to subject all Twitter messages to European copyright censorship, a disaster for online speech.
And it's not just Twitter, of course: any platform with EU users will have to solve this problem. Google, Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram, Tiktok, Snapchat, Flickr, Tumblr -- every network will have to contend with this.
With Article 13, the EU would create a system where copyright complainants get a huge stick to beat the internet with, where people who abuse this power face no penalties, and where platforms that err on the side of free speech will get that
stick right in the face.
As the EU's censorship plan
works its way through the next steps on the way to becoming binding across the EU, the whole world has a stake -- but only a handful of appointed negotiators get a say.
If you are a European, the rest of the world would be very grateful indeed if you would take a moment to
contact your MEP and urge them to protect us all in the new Copyright Directive.
In Canada, there have been ongoing discussions and proposals about new levies and fees to compensate creators for supposed missed revenue. There have been calls to levy a tax on mobile devices such as iPhones, for example. This week the Screen
Composers Guild of Canada took things up a notch, calling for a copyright levy on all broadband data use above 15 gigabytes per month.
A proposal from the Screen Composers Guild of Canada (SCGC), put forward during last week's Government hearings, suggests to simply add a levy on Internet use above 15 gigabytes per month.
The music composers argue that this is warranted because composers miss out on public performance royalties. One of the reasons for this is that online streaming services are not paying as much as terrestrial broadcasters.
The composers SCGC represents are not the big music stars. They are the people who write music for TV-shows and other broadcasts. Increasingly these are also shown on streaming services where the compensation is, apparently, much lower. SCGC
With regard to YouTube, which is owned by the advertising company Alphabet-Google, minuscule revenue distribution is being reported by our members. Royalties from the large streaming services, like Amazon and Netflix, are 50 to 95% lower when
compared to those from terrestrial broadcasters.
Statistics like this indicate that our veteran members will soon have to seek employment elsewhere and young screen-composers will have little hope of sustaining a livelihood, the guild adds, sounding the alarm bell.
SCGC's solution to this problem is to make every Canadian pay an extra fee when they use over 15 gigabytes of data per month. This money would then be used to compensate composers and fix the so-called value gap. As a result, all Internet users
who go over the cap will have to pay more. Even those who don't watch any of the programs where the music is used.
However, SCGC doesn't see the problem and believes that 15 gigabytes are enough. People who want to avoid paying can still use email and share photos, they argue. Those who go over the cap are likely streaming not properly compensated videos.
An ISP subscription levy that would provide a minimum or provide a basic 15 gigabytes of data per Canadian household a month that would be unlevied. Lots of room for households to be able to do Internet transactions, business, share photos,
download a few things, emails, no problem.
[W]hen you're downloading and consuming over 15 gigabytes of data a month, you're likely streaming Spotify. You're likely streaming YouTube. You're likely streaming Netflix. So we think because the FANG companies will not give us access to the
numbers that they have, we have to apply a broad-based levy. They're forcing us to.
The last comment is telling. The composers guild believes that a levy is the only option because Netflix, YouTube, and others are not paying their fair share. That sounds like a licensing or rights issue between these services and the authors.
Dragging millions of Canadians into this dispute seems questionable, especially when many people have absolutely nothing to do with it.