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Article 13: Does the EU Censor the Internet?

The internet: that wonderful place in the sky where you have access to all sorts of weird and wonderful information. Looking for the best vine compilation, Ronaldo’s latest game changer, or a third-party summary of world news headlines? As of right now, at the click of a button that is easily achieved. But it may not be for much longer. Alongside recent EU regulations on private information protection, something referred to as Article 13 made headlines on Sunday 24th March.

Not to be confused with Brexit Article 50, that other contentious piece of legislation currently dominating headlines, Article 13 is a small but crucial part of the recently introduced EU directive on copyrighting that is making waves. Correctly named “The Directive in the Digital Single Market”, it is aimed at protecting the rights of original content producers in an age of easily reproducible information – AKA piracy. Kind of. The main thrust of the argument is that original content producers are losing out on potential revenue due to the accessibility and ease of sharing pretty much anything on the internet. Think of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram et al. Although there are some forms of filtering when it comes to who can upload what, essentially these platforms are a free-for-all and whoever sells an idea the best may profit from it. Digital marketing is no longer a private affair where originality is respected, since all it takes is a click of a button and off you go.

The idea behind this sounds fair to small time creatives and even news outlets, who stand to lose a slice of the pie when their stories are shared on a newsfeed. But when is the copyright infringement line crossed? This new directive seems to place the liability on the big-tech firms of Silicon Valley, with the idea that they must create new and more stringent filters for their upload algorithms. This sounds all well and fine but the little details don’t quite fit into that frame. Think of the FIFA Football World Cup, the single most watched event in television history, and the stringent broadcasting rights surrounding this match. Now if someone were to make a GIF of the match winning goal and put it up on their social media channel, is this still illegal or even immoral in our current culture of instant accessibility? After all, there are segments of a game shared for potentially millions of viewers but at no cost to either upload platform, uploader or viewer. Now – to make matters more interesting – if that particular uploader were to get millions of hits on their video then according to current YouTube legislation, they would be paid for in-house advertising rights. And this is where the snag comes in. Who owns the content?

Image result for article 13 eu protests

Young, public opposition was high, especially in Germany, but also most other countries. However, the Directive is popular among European parties.

This may seem like a trivial example, but some commentators see this as a potential for a censored internet. After all, the internet is often viewed as the global connector – a platform where one can connect with other from all over the globe, arguably bringing us more together. Are we to leave this connectivity in the hands of a copyright algorithm? I’m not so sure. While I do understand the cries of the artists, who are already losing an untold amount with every share of a song or photo, I would prefer to focus on the potential ramifications of such ‘censorship’. 21st century culture is centred around the possibility of sharing anything and everything online. This fundamentally shapes who we are today and that cannot be changed. Nor should it be.

Personally I am unable to see the difference between sharing an article online and handing a friend a hard-copy magazine or newspaper with an interesting headline. Failure to spread or share ideas online, regardless of their source, will only result in a closing down of communications in a time when it is only just beginning to open up.

Despite intense public opposition, especially from the protesting youth, the EU Parliament has given its final thumbs-up for the Directive including Article 13 on Sunday. Any EU Directive always relies on national member states creating their own laws that fulfill the goals of the Directive. Legal experts agree that upload filters will nonetheless become mandatory for online platforms due to Article 13. This will make European internet significantly less open. There were better ways to ensure that artists get paid their share, that were also championed by NGOs, citizens and some small parties. Even more worrying, the current Directive finds widespread support among Europe’s parties. Now, the Council of the EU still has to pass Article 13, but this is likely.

In a way, Article 13 is a missed opportunity. The EU should have listened more to civil society instead of powerful party entrepreneurs. Instead, the prejudice of Brussels deciding above its citizens’ heads appears true.

Michael does Arts & Culture at FASos, co-heads the UNSA Journalism Committee and writes for the MD.


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