How the new EU laws will change your internet

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5 minutes read

Imagine for a moment one of just three possible use cases of internet in our daily lives:

  1. You found an interesting article on the web and want to share it on your Facebook page with your followers.
  2. You are passionate about jogging and want to read a detailed review of an incredible new model of running shoes written by someone in the community.
  3. You are a frequent visitor to your favourite small board games forum and want to post a comment about a new game you discovered.

All of those usages examples may soon be impossible for a regular internet European user, thanks to a Copyright Directive that was approved by European Parliament on 26th March 2019. The examples are easy to imagine for anyone since that is mostly how we use internet today. In this article I want to shed more light on this important matter.

What is the fuss about?

Two particular articles from the Copyright Directive: Article 11 and Article 13 are the source of all turmoil. Weirdly, both article numbers in the final directive text were quietly changed to 15 and 17 accordingly, additionally mudding the waters. Nevertheless, what are the articles about?

Article 11

Fortunately the Copyright Directive does not apply to private and non-commercial means of using press publications by individual users. So you shouldn’t be punished for sharing a particular article on your Twitter feed. The directive states that large platforms such as Facebook and Google should pay media companies for their works, in this case press articles, to appear on social media platforms.

Where lies the problem? Any media company that would fail to come to an agreement with major social platforms would stop being cited and shared in those platforms. It is hard to imagine that Facebook or Google would be able, or event want to, talk to all creator, even the smallest Internet portals or casual bloggers. As a direct effect, some independent creators and smaller websites may disappear from social giants, loosing their writing business. Many of authors rely totally on social platforms and their sharing options as an ultimate way to reach the vast audience.

Article 13

According to article content, all commercial apps and websites where users can post their own materials must fully monitor their uploads. Any detected copyrighted content must be filtered out before it will be visible to others. Filtering will be required from all online sites. Websites will be forced to implement upload filters which are both expensive and error-prone - no company can promise a foolproof solution as of today. What this really means, is that many places where users share their thoughts, work and ideas may disappear from internet forever. It might not be technically possible to filter all of the content in such a way to satisfy the article requirements. Also, it can be simply too expensive for some smaller sites and forums to implement those upload filters or imperfect filters could expose them to excessive risk of litigation from copyright holders. Because of that smaller providers could have to disable their basic features. Without sharing, most of those sites would have no reason to exist in the first place.

Imprecise law is a bad law

The Copyright Directive was proclaimed as a helping hand for content owners like musicians, writers and any other authors. The idea was to give them the opportunity to negotiate better contracts and rewards for the use of their works when these works are made available on online platforms. This is undeniably good action since everyone deserves a fair pay for their products or creations.

The real problem with the new internet laws lies in its vagueness and imprecision of its provisions. This provides the field for more or less accurate predictions as to the practical dimension of its future use. Any good law should be clear and precise - especially if it concerns such important issues as freedom of speech. Today’s copyrights laws may not be perfect but Copyright Directive is certainly not the best way to go, since it leaves a lot of space for incorrect interpretation of the provisions that it wants to introduce.

Directive vs Regulation

One important thing to note is that, as name suggests, the new internet law is a Copyright Directive. It is essential to distinguish this term from a regulation which as Wikipedia states is: a legal act of the European Union that becomes immediately enforceable as law in all member states simultaneously. What is means is that once a regulation is approved by European Parliament, all countries that belong to EU must adapt to it at once. Some (or most) of you may be familiar with the General Data Protection Regulation which was implemented on 25th May 2018 in the whole European Union. That regulation is the reason why almost on every site you visit, you have to give a consent to process your personal data (usually a small box at the bottom of the page). The GDPR is also responsible for the additional agreement you have to sign at your doctor or dentist in order for them to store information about you.

Directive on the other hand is (again after Wikipedia): a legal act of the European Union which requires member states to achieve a particular result without dictating the means of achieving that result. Which means that yes, the Copyright Directive was approved by European Parliament, but it is up to local government how will they handle implementing it in real life.

In my home country, Poland, the new Copyright Directive is to be implemented within 2 years. There is still some time to act and a bit of hope that a reasonable authority will be rational about implementing the Directive. As voters and as citizens, we can and should have our say in this matter.

What can I do?

First of all, according to some studies 460 million people in Europe use Internet. How many of them are aware of the new Copyright Directive? Hard to tell, but chances are you friends aren’t. Talk to them and explain how the new law could affect them. This time, ignorance won’t be bliss.

Secondly, as a voter you have great power (when combined with millions of other voters). Make sure you know how your preferred political party is approaching the matter and don’t be afraid to make them aware of the possible negative effects of the directive.

Spread the knowledge and be aware. Don’t let the internet become a sad and dark place just because the EU says so.