04 July 2018

Countering the Latest Misinformation about the EU Copyright Directive

Tomorrow the European Parliament will vote on whether to send its version of the Copyright Directive text to "trilogues" for final negotiations. As I've written here before, this would be disastrous for the Internet in the EU. However, efforts to prevent that happening are having an impact. The MEPs on the JURI committee that drew up the current flawed text have just sent a short document to all MEPs to try to convince them to vote to move on to the trilogues (you can read it on Techdirt). It is full of misinformation, which I would like to debunk here so that people can explain to their MEPs – either in an email, or by phone – why the claims made in the JURI note are false.

I'll concentrate here on what it says about Article 13, which will bring in upload filters, since the threat it represents to the Internet is greater, and the misinformation in the JURI paper most egregious. For example, it says:

It aims to make platforms accountable, but not all platforms. Article 13 needs to be seen in conjunction with article 2 of the draft directive.

And explains:

Only those that are active, so that optimize the content posted online.

However, it fails to point out that "optimisation" includes trivial processes like changing the order of material. In other words, any site that does anything other than offer a storage medium is "active", and will thus be obliged to impose upload filters. Moreover, it truly is any site, of any size. Whereas before, supporters of Article 13 insisted it would only apply to the largest sites, JURI now says the following:

Any platform is covered by Article 13 if one of their main purposes is to give access to copyright protected content to the public.

It cannot make any difference if it is a “small thief” or a “big thief” as it should be illegal in the first place.

Small platforms, even a one-person business, can cause as much damage to right holders as big companies, if their content is spread (first on this platform and possibly within seconds throughout the whole internet) without their consent.

In view of such a small business potentially causing such a tremendous damage to right holders, the compromise text does not foresee any exemption for SMESs.

This is a huge and remarkable change, because it means even the smallest business or startup will have to licence or filter uploads. The JURI document tries to claim this isn't a problem because:

However, the text provides safeguards that will benefit SMEs. Measures must be appropriate and proportionate.

But that vague definition still places a huge burden on smaller companies, and pretty much guarantees that startups will avoid the EU, and set up shop elsewhere.  Finally, two pieces of misinformation are repeated yet again. One concerns filters:

no general filtering measures are included in Article 13. The text even emphasizes that this practice is prohibited

The text can prohibit the practice as much as it likes, but general filtering is precisely what Article 13 requires – there is no other way of doing it. Which means that companies will either break the law by not implementing general filtering, or break it by doing so. Finally, there is the old nonsense that Article13

does not threaten freedom of expression or fundamental rights.

The meme, mash-up, the gifs are already allowed and included in an existing exception and will still be after the adoption of this directive (article 5, directive 2001/29/EC

3. Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the rights provided for in Articles 2 and 3 in the following cases: (k) use for the purpose of caricature, parody or pastiche

As I've pointed out before, this exception is optional, and currently not available in 19 EU Member States. Implying that memes are safe is duplicitous in the extreme, and shows how desperate supporters of the Copyright Directive are.

Please contact your MEPs to explain how things really stand, and perhaps point out that the fact the JURI briefing is reduced to spreading serious misinformation is an indication there are no real arguments in favour of this bad law.

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