Article 13 vs the Internet

Photo credit: Wikipedia

Last month I had the opportunity to write a small article for the school magazine about the high-debated article 13. So I started doing some researches to write the best article I could, but unfortunately, due to strict length limitations, I hadn’t the possibility to write everything I wanted. In this post, though, I do not have any limitation and I can tell my whole vision about this topic.

What’s this ‘article 13’ thing?

If you lived under a rock for the past few months and you don’t know what’s this all about you are in the right place. In 2016 there was a proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on copyright in the Digital Single Market. The idea is simple: as highly expressed in the explanatory memorandum, in the last years the number of platforms that allow users to upload and share content has highly increased. Until now, though, there was not a real law protecting copyright in the best way possible on these platforms. For this reason, a series of 24 articles had been presented to the European Union. Behind all of this there are noble motivations: artists and content creators have the right to be protected, some of the articles want to make easier for school institutions, libraries and museums to utilize protected content. But lots of concern has been expressed due to the possible misinterpretation of some of the articles.

Particularly, two of them have been highly discussed: the 11th and the 13th. In this post I will concentrate on the second one, catastrophically nicknamed ‘meme killer’.

The ‘meme killer’

Until now all the platforms worked in this simple way: “you upload whatever you want, if you commit some copyright infringement it is entirely your fault and you are responsible for that”. On their side, they often try to protect all the content in the best way possible, but still, they are bounded to technology and money limitations.

YouTube, for example, has a very cool system that checks for every uploaded video and if it finds some protected content it doesn’t usually delete anything but gives all the incomes to its original creator, so that you can’t monetize someone else’s work.

This was great and until now was the standard. Please remember that no control was mandatory and the platform had the possibility to decide how to deal with it. So that many small companies that haven’t access to the necessary resources could just say: “ok you can’t upload this. If you do we cannot be considered responsible in court.”

What Article 13 pretends, though, is that every platform is now responsible for EVERY content. What does this mean? Because of that every company will now need to implement some sort of control system to check if each content is allowed or not.

The problem

What apparently is not very clear to the European Union is that in this historical moment no system can be perfect in this task. The YouTube Content ID (we sort of talked about it a few lines before) continuously gives false positives and requires human intervention to solve disputes. Other platforms, like Facebook, have their own problems, too. Pianist James Rhodes received a copyright infringement after he uploaded a short video while playing Bach in his house. (If that was not clear, you obviously cannot violate any copyright for some music composed 300 years ago) (more on that here)

Also if you think about that, you’ll easily realize that small companies and startups have not the monetary resources to develop a functioning system and will need to pay bigger companies to do the hard work for them. Do we really want to centralize this process?

The main problem is that because of the extreme inaccuracy, the best option could be… obscuring the Internet inside the EU. You cannot violate any copyright if you can’t upload nor view anything. It is a drastic and tragic solution but could be considered the only one.

What to do

Since the proposal is not yet law and since it will be rewritten before being approved in early 2019, the only option we have is to put some pressure on the members of European Parliament so that the final law will be written in the best way possible.

Lots of public figures, like world wide web co-inventor Tim Berners-Lee, foundations, like Wikimedia, and companies, like Youtube (#saveyourinternet) and Google, are trying to raise awareness of the population.

Conflict of interests

What I didn’t know at the time I wrote the article for the school magazine is that the reason Google (alongside with YouTube) is putting so much pressure on the topic is that they want their Content ID to be part of the law. Seems quite obvious that having a proprietary software be part of a European law doesn’t seem a great idea. However, I’m not so informed about this last piece of information and I’d like to avoid reporting the untrue. I’ll leave you the possibility (and the duty) to do the appropriate researches and express your critical thinking in the comments.

My opinion

Personally, speaking also as a content creator, I think that properly protecting copyright is extremely important, and at the time of the writing no real law achieves this goal. However I strongly believe that making platforms responsible for the behavior of their users is extremely stupid. It’s like making manufacturers responsible for the way people use their products.

I think for this topic we should rely more on laws and courts rather than on the technology. Promoting systems like the Content ID is good, since on YouTube it often does a great job, but forcing companies to use that doesn’t seem a really good idea to me, especially thinking about those small platforms or startups that would have to deal with it.

That being said I’d love to engage a discussion with you in the comments, so feel free to express your view ;)