Lately, we’ve been reading a lot about the passing of the proposal for the Copyright Directive on a unified digital market.Two opposite camps formed: on one side, the supporters arguing that the new authors will have their rights defended and will receive their due rewards, and on the other the opponents, warning of the possibility of losing the free internet (and with it freedom of speech) as we know it.
As part of the reform of the copyright law, the Directive is supposed to protect the authors from unauthorised distribution of their work online. However, opponents warn such a legal solution might facilitate regulation of flow of information by internet suppliers, which could impede the publication of content (which could still be published after paying a tax or after being “filtered”). Representatives of authors or artistic associations are in favour of the proposal, affirming the Directive will finally enable the authors to demand fair remuneration for their content on the internet.
This certainly represents a big step forward for copyright protection, but two disputable articles should be mentioned: articles 11 and 13 or rather 15 and 17 in the amended Directive.
Article 11, called also the “link-tax”, taxing certain content and links, has already been passed and “tested” in certain EU countries (Germany and Spain), resulting in “utter disaster” – a lot of content no longer accessible, millions of Euros in losses, residents of Spain could no longer access Google News, and in Germany, so called “Google Snippets” practically went out of use. According to experts, such restrictions would lead to an internet dominated by big media, smaller media fading to the background due to inability to pay the tax and smaller online exposure resulting from it.
Article 13 represents a sort of “upload filter” and prohibits uploading of copyright protected content. It’s worth mentioning Google invested 100 million Euros to develop this technology. Let’s try and imagine what this would mean for smaller content providers: it is impossible, the only other option that remains is to stop providing content.
But the problems with article 13 do not stop with filtered content. Due to sheer volume of the content, automated filters would have to be developed, meaning artificial intelligence would regulate publication. When we leave the decision whether or not to publish something to a computer, how much freedom of expression and information flow are we left with?
The Directive incontestably advocates for a good cause: the protection of authors and trying to ensure they receive fair pay for their work. Its side effects could be quite different, though. It is not only a question of copyright protection but also a question of concentration of power. Information has always meant power, and today this power grows exponentially. By ousting smaller independent online content providers we lose the (relatively) independent news and information. Simultaneously, concentrating content with some online giants augments and concentrates their social power which may lead to an unimaginable global centralisation of power.
Let me finish by stating I absolutely agree authors should be granted better protection than what they have today and rewarded for their work. I am convinced it would stimulate their creativity and bolster innovation. It would build and protect cultural capital and enrich our society. However, the path to these changes should NEVER cross paths with freedom of speech or flow of information.