The EU’s Copyright Directive has been passed by the EU Parliament. Some are calling it the death of online memes, free expression, and news links, while others are calling it a win for content creators like musicians and artists. What’s really going on and why is it all such a big mess?
Haste makes waste
Nobody’s 100% sure what the new directive will lead to, and that’s part of the problem – many of its laws are open to interpretation or to implementation by individual member states. It will be up to the courts to see how they play out. What’s certain is that the laws should have been crafted more methodically and carefully to avoid the potentially suppressive collateral damage that we may currently face.
Unfortunately, even Axel Voss, the MEP rapporteur responsible for pushing the directive through, isn’t sure what will happen. After the vote, a Swedish reporter discovered that Voss had accidentally missed an entire article that had been inserted into the law. Not a good look for the man responsible for the law in the first place.
Another problem with the (relative) haste behind this law is that the Internet will have precious little time to respond. The GDPR – a more positive law that was much longer in the making – was still met with chaos when it came into effect, despite how much time in advance websites and companies were given. With this much uncertainty and haste, the EU Copyright Directive is bound to be much more disruptive.
All of this speaks to an incredible amount of haste and carelessness on the lawmakers’ part, and that’s worrying for a law with such potentially broad impact. It is quite possible, in fact, that this rushed-through law will affect the entire world.
Censorship beyond the EU’s borders
The EU is home to over half a billion people and is the second largest economy in the world, so it’s a hard place to ignore. Any website interested in staying internationally significant is going to have to respond to the EU’s legislation, one way or another.
For Articles 11 and 13, most sites will go one of two ways. The first direction is to comply with those laws to the letter. We’ll explain what that might look like further below, but it isn’t pretty. This may involve AI filters that will block any copyrighted content (even if it’s used fairly in a satirical fashion or for political commentary) and taxes on hyperlinks leading to journalistic content (for some sites, it might be easier to simply block all relevant hyperlinks). It is unlikely that these systems would only target EU users, so they will probably affect all global users.
The other (much easier) path is to simply block users from the EU. This will probably be the natural choice for any site that doesn’t have the technical resources to comply with the laws or can afford to lose its EU visitors. We know this is going to happen because we saw it happen with the GDPR. Some major sites, like the LA Times, still block EU users due to unresolved GDPR issues.
The case for the Copyright Directive
Supporters of the Copyright Directive say that it will help defend the rights of content creators and copyright holders, allowing them to earn a decent wage off of their content. They’re not wrong – that’s a very important goal, and most of the Copyright Directive pursues this goal admirably.
However, because it was such a hastily assembled law, we’re afraid that it may not even achieve its intended goal – never mind the collateral damage.
Take the link tax, for example. On the face of it, it should help news outlets generate revenue for the content they publish, which is a positive goal. But is that what will actually happen? If links and snippets become taxed, sites may opt to block them (like your university anti-plagiarism database) and users may avoid posting links at all. When Spain passed a mandatory link tax, Google took the drastic measure of shutting down its Google News service in Spain to avoid the fees, resulting in significant traffic losses for those websites. Not only will struggling outlets receive no additional income, their readership will also be decimated. How does that help them survive?
Let’s consider the content filter. “In My Feelings,” one of international superstar Drake’s latest hit songs, has enjoyed a viral coup thanks to the “Kiki Challenge.” In these videos, Drake fans step out of a (slowly) moving vehicle and perform the dance from Drake’s music video. In a world where videos with Drake’s copyrighted song are automatically filtered out, could “In My Feelings” achieve the same level of popularity and genuine engagement? I doubt it.
Does that mean that content creators’ and artists’ work and profits shouldn’t be protected? No, they absolutely should. There must be a way to protect copyright holders and creators that doesn’t infringe on the freedom of expression online, but that’s not what the EU Copyright Directive is as it currently stands.
When will it come into effect?
Technically, the EU Copyright Directive is not yet law, but chances are slim that it will change significantly at this point. During the Trilogue, the EU Parliament and EU Council will meet to discuss the directive and any final changes they think might be necessary. Then, the Parliament will vote on the altered directive with the Trilogue’s changes. Once that’s done, the directive will become law.
Things won’t become any clearer once it’s implemented. That’s because each member state will be responsible for implementing the directive in its own way. We’re not sure how the legislative landscape will look, but it is likely that any website interested in complying will simply adhere to the strictest law on the books in order to comply with the entire EU as a whole.