TECH & SCIENCE
IF Kim Kardashian’s backside wasn’t enough to break the internet, the EU’s Copyright Directive might just do the trick - only this time it might just stay broken.
Under new proposals, to be voted on by members of the European Parliament on June 21, search engines like Google and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter will be forced to pay a controversial ‘link tax’ to news media sites operating within EU member nations.
Additionally, a mandate would require internet social service providers to monitor user uploaded content for any copyright infringing material and block said content from being uploaded at all, as well as hold those sites directly liable for any copyright infringements.
The Copyright Directive - and articles 11 and 13 specifically - are a bid to drastically revert protections to content creators and organisations to something resembling the pre-internet era.
Of course, the protection of intellectual property is extremely important - and fair remuneration for originator of content equally so - but somebody really should have told the EU that the cat is well and truly out of the bag now, and trying to stuff it back in is only going to result in a very angry cat, severe lacerations, and crippling tetanus.
Among the more worrisome aspects of these proposals is that the link tax would be an inalienable right, meaning that media organisations would be forced to collect the fee, whether they want to or not.
This could be hugely detrimental to small, independent media organisations who rely on Google and other search engines to drive traffic to their websites.
If Google would be forced to pay these small organisations a fee to list their articles in it’s search results, then the likely outcome would be that Google simply won’t list them - at all.
But given the fact that the lobbying of these proposals has primarily come from large, European mainstream media conglomerates, that is probably the point of the exercise - to destroy small competitors.
The second troubling aspect of this is that content filtering almost certainly can’t be contained to EU nations alone, and would be rolled out globally - affecting countries, organisations, and individuals who have no representatives in the EU, and the proposal ignores fair use and transformative clauses extant in current copyright legislation.
In practice this means that the funny cat meme you want to up- load to Instagram could well be blocked by the site’s heavy handed algorithm, as a computer ( unsurprisingly) isn’t great at subjective ideas like ‘parody’.
All the algorithm would see is a configuration of pixels predetermined to be someone else’s intellectual property.
But who could blame Instagram for imposing such catch-all measures given the risks to their business under this new directive?
It’s unclear why this unworkable proposal wasn’t abandoned long ago.
A similar link tax was rolled out in Spain which resulted in Google News closing shop in the country, an equivalent scheme in Germany has also been deemed a woeful failure, and both small publishers and even a European Commision funded study have slammed the proposal.
The summarised conclusions of the study found that:
The review of academic literature on the topic found that there is “nearly universal criticism” of the proposal for a new neighbouring right.
The study finds "little evidence that declining newspaper revenues have anything do with the activities of news aggregators or search engines”, who the new law intends to target. The new right may end up stronger than conventional copyright, raising “objections… relating to freedom of expression”.
Linking will be negatively affected by the proposal: “It seems clear that some hyperlinking will be implicated”.
Even if the new right does lead to extra revenues for publishers, “they will be a drop in the ocean” – at the cost of posing “a threat to the nature of news communication” as well as “to innovation and new entry”.
The study's authors reach the conclusion that the extra copyright for news sites is incapable of achieving the Commission’s stated goal of promoting media pluralism and is an ill-fitted and disproportionate tool for facilitating the licensing and enforcement of rights by publishers.
As one unnamed German editor-in-chief interviewed in the study succinctly put it,
“If one is of the opinion that Google has a monopoly, then this should be tackled via the relevant existing laws.
“To argue that one must change the architecture of the Internet to tackle this is like saying that we drain the sea to fight pirates.
“Overall, the interest of the society are more important than the interests of the publishers”.
COPYRIGHT: Under proposed new directives, posting memes online could constitute a breach of copyright, and bloggers could be smacked with a ‘link tax’ if they refer to sources.