When Good Intentions Are Not Enough: The Issues Surrounding the Controversial Vote On Article 13 Of The EU Copyright Directive

Many of us have heard about Article 13 on websites like YouTube, Google and Reddit. The majority of discussion surrounding Article 13 is focused on whether or not the EU directive will curtail freedoms to share content such as memes or information. Contrary to popular belief, the EU is, fortunately, not coming for your memes. These new changes to the directive do raise questions about the effects this may have on not only the large tech companies like Google, YouTube or Facebook but also on individuals who make a living on creating content by utilizing copyrighted content and those who consume them.

This past April, the European Parliament voted to pass amendments to the EU internet copyright directive, officially known as the Directive on Copyright in the Internet Single Market. Among these was the now notorious Article 13, an amendment that was intended to ensure that websites be held legally responsible for the content they host. The result was a 348-274 vote in favor of the amendments to the Copyright Directive, including Article 13.

The parliamentarian behind this amendment, MEP Axel Voss of Germany, stated publicly that, “This directive is an important step towards correcting a situation which has allowed a few companies to earn huge sums of money without properly remunerating the thousands of creatives and journalists whose work they depend on.”

The origins of the article came from the concerns that large tech companies get away with paying an appropriate amount to host copyrighted content from creators such as artists, musicians, and journalists. Those that support the amendment, Sir Paul McCartney among them, believe that by making websites responsible for the content hosted on their websites, artists and journalists will be protected from copyright violation.

Under this new directive, the 28 Member States of the EU would be obligated to make changes to their existing national laws that would require websites to adapt algorithms to prevent copyrighted material from being uploaded to their sites, in addition to obligating websites to sign licensing agreements with musicians and journalists in order to host their content. This ‘upload filter’ would be applied to all websites within the EU, with a few exceptions. While websites such as Google have had similar filters for years, this would require smaller websites to obtain them or else face the consequences.

MEP Axel Voss, leader of the campaign to pass Article 13 through the European Parliament. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

While this may seem like a reasonable approach to the issue of copyright infringement, the reliance on upload filters could prove problematic from a technical stance. The algorithms that website filters would use have faced issues in differentiating between copyright infringement and user-generated content. Google has faced this issue for a while, and has not been able to find an adequate solution yet. If websites are required to use filters such as that of Google, we may see content being incorrectly removed by these filters more frequently.

One example of content that would be susceptible to removal would be parody content. While we take parody content found on YouTube as being nothing more than simple comedic content, filter algorithms would not be capable of making that distinction, and could, therefore, remove parody content. This would give credence to the points that critics of Article 13 have been making for years.

Critics of the amendments to the directive believe that the greatest problem with Article 13 is that it will lead to censorship of content on the Internet by relying on filters for websites, marked by the famous tag #saveyourinternet. Imposing an upload filter for copyrighted material would not only apply to music and newspaper articles; it could also extend to things such as video games, movies, and images. This is why Article 13 has been commonly referred to as the “meme ban”, though the EU has stated that there would be exceptions to the article, such as images and gifs.

The creator of the world wide web himself, Tim Berners-Lee, has openly voiced his opposition to the amendment by stating that the heaviest burdens imposed by this article will fall on both individual consumers and contributors to content on sites such as Wikipedia, as well as people who produce content on the Internet. Since copyrighted content would have to be  In solidarity with opponents of Article 13, Wikipedia and other popular websites shut down for a full day a week before the vote, to demonstrate the potential negative effects of implementing the revised Directive.

Demonstration gegen Artikel 13 EU-Urheberrechtsreform, Köln 9. März 2019

Individual citizens and tech companies are not the only ones that are fundamentally opposed to Article 13; there have also academics who question the efficacy of implementing Article 13 due to a variety of reasons. Key among them is the question of whether or not this amendment will indeed help content creators. In an open letter to the European Parliament prior to the vote, the UK-based creative economy research center CREATe voiced the concerns of many, noting that the implementation of the amendment could “hinder digital innovation and users’ participation.”

Another aspect of the issue is that user-generated content often utilizes plenty of copyrighted material. The recent trend of live streaming, usually people broadcasting themselves playing video games or being out in public, often includes music, images, and other user-generated content as part of their content. Websites such as Twitch.tv, a streaming site owned by Amazon, are based on this model of creators utilizing other copyrighted content to create new content. Under Article 13, this would require that these websites pay for licenses to products such as music in order for it to be legally utilized by streamers.

This places a burden on both websites for having to pay for licensing and on the user/creator that may not be able to utilize certain products for their stream if the website cannot legally host it. Kathy Berry, an intellectual property lawyer, notes that video game streaming is an excellent example of the complexity of online copyrights. As the language found in Article 13 contains broad and ambiguous phrasing, something not uncommon in EU legislation, we may see that future legal cases regarding online copyrights will

Regardless of one’s position on the issue, one thing is certain: these changes will be coming soon. The newly amended EU Copyright Directive is to be implemented by all Member States within the next two years, meaning that huge parts of the internet may see dramatic transformations in the immediate future. In any case, save your parodies and keep your meme stashes in a thumb drive!

Alejandro Guzman

To get the issue further explained, listen to UPF Radio’s podcast “The End of the Free Internet?” The episode includes reactions from MEP Max Andersson (MP), Bildupphosvrätt Sverige’s CEO Mats Lindberg and professor from the Faculty of Law in Lund Aurelia Lukoseviciene.

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