With Tumblr’s decision this week to ban porn on its platform, everyone’s getting a firsthand look at how bad automated content filters are at the moment. Lawmakers in the European Union want a similar system to filter copyrighted works and, despite expert consensus that this will just fuck up the internet, the legislation moves forward. Now some of the biggest platforms on the web insist we must stop it.
YouTube, Reddit, and Twitch have recently come out publicly against the EU’s new Copyright Directive, arguing that the impending legislation could be devastating to their businesses, their users, and the internet at large.
The Copyright Directive is the first update to the group of nation’s copyright law since 2001, and it’s a major overhaul that is intended to claw back some of the money that copyright holders believe they’ve lost since the internet use exploded around the globe. Fundamentally, its provisions are supposed to punish big platforms like Google for profiting off of copyright infringement and siphon some income back into the hands of those to which it rightfully belongs.
Unfortunately, the way it’s designed will likely make it more difficult for smaller platforms, harm the free exchange information, kill memes, make fair use more difficult to navigate—all the while, tech giants will have the resources to survive the wreckage. You don’t have to take my word for it, listen to Tim-Berners Lee, the father of the world wide web, and the other 70 top technologists that signed a letter arguing against the legislation back in June.
So far, this issue hasn’t received the kind of attention that, say, net neutrality did, at least in part because it’s very complicated to explain and it takes a while for these kinds of things to sink in. We’ve outlined the details in the past on multiple occasions. The main thing to understand is that critics take issue with two pieces of the legislation.
Article 11, better known as a “link tax,” would require online platforms to purchase a license to link out to other sites or quotes from articles. That’s the part that threatens the free spread of information.
Article 13 dictates that online platforms install some sort of monitoring system that lets copyright holders upload their work for automatic detection. If something sneaks by the system’s filters, the platform could face full penalties for copyright infringement. For example, a SpongeBob meme could be flagged and blocked because of its source image belonging to Nickelodeon; or a dumb vlog could be flagged and blocked because there’s a sponge in the background and the dumb filter thought it was SpongeBob.