The Polish government is demanding that ISPs snitch on their customers who attempt to access websites it deems illegal.
The government wants to make the restrictions stricter for unauthorised online gambling sites and will require local ISPs to inform it about citizens' attempts to access them. According to the Panoptykon Foundation, a digital rights watchdog, the
government will compile a central registry of unauthorized websites to monitor.
According to the digital rights body, the government seeks to introduce a chief snooper that would compel data from ISPs disclosing which citizens tried to access unauthorised websites. In addition, the ISPs would have to keep the smooping
requests secret from the customer.
Local organisations are unsurprisingly worried that the censorship's expansion could turn out to be the first of many steps in an online limitation escalation.
Against all the odds, but with the support of nearly a million Europeans
, MEPs voted earlier this month to reject
the EU's proposed copyright reform--including controversial proposals to create a new "snippet" right for news publishers, and mandatory copyright filters for sites that published user uploaded content.
The change was testimony to how powerful and fast-moving Net activists can be. Four weeks ago, few knew that these crazy provisions were even being considered. By the June 20th vote,
Internet experts were weighing in
, and wider conversations
were starting on sites like Reddit.
The result was a vote on July 5th of all MEPS, which ended in a 318 against 278 victory in favour of withdrawing the Parliament's support for the languages. Now all MEPs will have a chance in September to submit new amendments and vote on a final
text -- or reject the directive entirely.
While re-opening the text was a surprising set-back for Article 13 and 11, the battle isn't over: the language to be discussed on in September will be based on
the original proposal
by the European Commission, from two years ago -- which included the first versions of the copyright filters, and snippet rights. German MEP Axel Voss's controversial modifications will also be included in the debate, and there may well be a flood
of other proposals, good and bad, from the rest of the European Parliament.
There's still sizeable support for the original text: Article 11 and 13's loudest proponents, led by Voss, persuaded many MEPs to support them by arguing that these new powers would restore the balance between American tech giants and Europe's
newspaper and creative industries -- or "close the value gap", as their arguments have it.
But using mandatory algorithmic censors and new intellectual property rights to restore balance is like Darth Vader bringing balance to the Force: the fight may involve a handful of brawling big players, but it's everybody else who would have to
deal with the painful consequences.
That's why it remains so vital for MEPs to hear voices that represent the wider public interest. Librarians
, and redditors, everyone from small Internet businesses and celebrity Youtubers, spoke up in a way that was impossible for the Parliament to ignore. The same Net-savvy MEPs and activists that wrote and fought for the GDPR put their names to
challenge the idea that these laws would rein back American tech companies. Wikipedians stood up and were counted: seven independent, European-language encyclopedias consensed to
on the day of the vote. European alternatives to Google, Facebook and Twitter argued that this would set back their cause
. And European artists
spoke up that the EU shouldn't be setting up censorship and ridiculous link rights in their name.
To make sure the right amendments pass in September, we need to keep that conversation going. Read on to find out what you can do, and who you should be speaking to.
Who Spoke Up In The European Parliament?
As we noted last week, the decision to challenge the JURI committee's language on Article 13 and 11 last week was not automatic -- a minimum of 78 MEPs needed to petition for it to be put to the vote. Here's
of those MEPs who actively stepped forward to stop the bill. Also heavily involved was Julia Reda, the Pirate Party MEP who worked so hard on making the rest of the proposed directive so positive for copyright reform, and then re-dedicated herself
to stopping the worst excesses of the JURI language, and Marietje Schaake
, the Parliament's foremost advocate for human rights online.
These are the core of the opposition to Article 13 and 11. A look at that list, and the
final list of votes
on July 5th, shows that the proposals have opponents in every corner of Europe's political map. It also shows that every MEP who voted for Article 13 and 11, has someone close to them politically who knows why it's wrong.
What happens now?
In the next few weeks, those deep in the minutiae of the Copyright directive will be crafting amendments for MEPs to vote on in September. The tentative schedule is that the amendments are accepted until Wednesday September 5th, with a vote at
12:00 Central European Time on Wednesday September 12th.
The European Parliament has a fine tradition of producing a rich supply of amendments (the GDPR had thousands). We'll need to coalesce support around a few key fixes that will keep the directive free of censorship filters and snippet rights
language, and replace them with something less harmful to the wider Net.
Julia Reda already proposed amendments. And one of Voss' strongest critics in the latest vote was Catherine Stihler, the Scottish MEP who had created and passed consumer-friendly directive language in her committee, which Voss ignored. (Here's her
before the final vote.)
While we wait for those amendments to appear, the next step is to keep the pressure on MEPs to remember what's at stake -- no mandatory copyright filters, and no new ancillary rights on snippets of text.
In particular, if you talk to your MEP
, it's important to convey how you feel these proposals will affect you . MEPs are hearing from giant tech and media companies. But they are only just beginning to hear from a broader camp: the people of the Internet.
France's online gaming authority (ARJEL, Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne) has decided that loot boxes in
premium-priced games are not gambling. It determined that loot boxes are not legally considered gambling, and therefore are not gambling.
However, ARJEL will continue to monitor the matter and is also calling for more unilateral support from the European Union in order to achieve a sound consensus on whether or not to consider loot boxes gambling.
According to ARJEL, the fact that you can't readily cash out your rewards from loot boxes for real-world currency means that in the minds of regulators it's not quite gambling. For them, the only way it would be gambling is if players could
actually retrieve the money that they invested into the product.
However, ARJEL also believes that loot boxes do contain questionable psychological hooks that work very similar to slot machines and roulette wheels in terms of luring gamers into a feeling of needing to spend more money in order to acquire the
item they seek.
As we have been covering in the last couple of articles, a controversial EU Copyright Directive has been under discussion at
the European Parliament, and in a surprising turn of events, it voted to reject
fast-tracking the tabled proposal by the JURI Committee which contained controversial proposals, particularly in
and Art 13
. The proposed Directive will now get a full discussion and debate in plenary in September.
I say surprising because for those of us who have been witnesses (and participants) to the Copyright Wars for the last 20 years, such a defeat of copyright maximalist proposals is practically unprecedented, perhaps with the exception of
. For years we've had a familiar pattern in the passing of copyright legislation: a proposal has been made to enhance protection and/or restrict liberties, a small group of ageing millionaire musicians would be paraded supporting the changes in
the interest of creators. Only copyright nerds and a few NGOs and digital rights advocates would complain, their opinions would be ignored and the legislation would pass unopposed. Rinse and repeat.
But something has changed, and a wide coalition has managed to defeat powerful media lobbies for the first time in Europe, at least for now. How was this possible?
The main change is that the media landscape is very different thanks to the Internet. In the past, the creative industries were monolithic in their support for stronger protection, and they included creators, corporations, collecting societies,
publishers, and distributors; in other words the gatekeepers and the owners were roughly on the same side. But the Internet brought a number of new players, the tech industry and their online platforms and tools became the new gatekeepers.
Moreover, as people do not buy physical copies of their media and the entire industry has moved towards streaming, online distributors have become more powerful. This has created a perceived imbalance, where the formerly dominating industries need
to negotiate with the new gatekeepers for access to users. This is why creators complain about a value gap
between what they perceive they should be getting, and what they actually receive from the giants.
The main result of this change from a political standpoint is that now we have two lobbying sides in the debate, which makes all the difference when it comes to this type of legislation. In the past, policymakers could ignore experts and digital
rights advocates because they never had the potential to reach them, letters and articles by academics were not taken into account, or given lip service during some obscure committee discussion just to be hidden away. Tech giants such as Google
have provided lobbying access in Brussels, which has at least levelled the playing field when it comes to presenting evidence to legislators.
As a veteran of the Copyright Wars, I have to admit that it has been very entertaining reading the reaction from the copyright industry lobby groups and their individual representatives, some almost going apoplectic with rage at Google's
intervention. These tend to be the same people who spent decades lobbying legislators to get their way unopposed, representing large corporate interests unashamedly and passing laws that would benefit only a few, usually to the detriment of users.
It seems like lobbying must be decried when you lose.
But to see this as a victory for Google and other tech giants completely ignores the large coalition that shares the view that the proposed Articles 11 and 13 are very badly thought-out, and could represent a real danger to existing rights. Some
of us have been fighting this fight when Google did not even exist, or it was but a small competitor of AltaVista, Lycos, Excite and Yahoo!
At the same time that more restrictive copyright legislation came into place, we also saw the rise of free and open source software, open access, Creative Commons and open data. All of these are legal hacks that allow sharing, remixing and
openness. These were created precisely to respond to restrictive copyright practices. I also remember how they were opposed as existential threats by the same copyright industries, and treated with disdain and animosity. But something wonderful
happened, eventually open source software started winning (we used to buy operating systems), and Creative Commons became an important part of the Internet's ecosystem by propping-up valuable common spaces such as Wikipedia.
Similarly, the Internet has allowed a great diversity of actors to emerge. Independent creators, small and medium enterprises, online publishers and startups love the Internet because it gives them access to a wider audience, and often they can
bypass established gatekeepers. Lost in this idiotic "Google v musicians" rhetoric has been the threat that both Art 11 and 13 represent to small entities. Art 11 proposes a new publishing right that has been proven to affect smaller
players in Germany and Spain; while Art 13 would impose potentially crippling economic restrictions to smaller companies as they would have to put in place automated filtering systems AND redress mechanisms against mistakes. In fact, it has been
often remarked that Art 13 would benefit existing dominant forces, as they already have filtering in place (think ContentID).
Similarly, Internet advocates and luminaries see the proposals as a threat to the Internet, the people who know the Web best think that this is a bad idea. If you can stomach it,
read this thread featuring
a copyright lobbyist attacking Neil Gaiman, who has been one of the Internet celebrities that have voiced their concerns about the Directive.
Even copyright experts
who almost never intervene in digital rights affairs the have been vocal in their opposition to the changes.
And finally we have political representatives from various parties and backgrounds who have been vocally opposed to the changes. While the leader of the political opposition has been the amazing Julia Reda, she has managed to bring together a
variety of voices from other parties and countries. The vitriol launched at her has been unrelenting, but futile. It has been quite a sight to see her opponents both try to dismiss her as just another clueless young Pirate commanded by Google,
while at the same time they try to portray her as a powerful enemy in charge of the mindless and uninformed online troll masses ready to do her bidding.
All of the above managed to do something wonderful, which was to convey the threat in easy-to-understand terms so that users could contact their representatives and make their voice heard. The level of popular opposition to the Directive has been
a great sight to behold.
Tech giants did not create this alliance, they just gave various voices access to the table. To dismiss this as Google's doing completely ignores the very real and rich tapestry of those defending digital rights, and it is quite clearly
patronising and insulting, and precisely the reason why they lost. It was very late until they finally realised that they were losing the debate with the public, and not even the last-minute deployment of musical dinosaurs could save the day.
But the fight continues, keep contacting your MEPs and keep applying pressure.
So who supported internet censorship in the EU parliamentary vote?
Mostly the EU Conservative Group and also half the Social Democrat MEPs and half the Far Right MEPs