The Internet loses, for now!

With the European Parliament voting 348-274 in favor of the controversial Copyright Directive, Article 13, which will require platforms to implement an upload filter to prevent copyright infringement, will soon come into effect.

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What is Article 13?

So, what does Article 13 do? Now known as Article 17, it will have a drastic impact on how Europeans share material online. It states that platforms will have to ensure that user content is licensed and does not breach copyright.

Critics say this means that “upload filters” will be introduced to scan all content and remove copyrighted materials before it is uploaded. Though the law does not call for such filters explicitly, it could be inevitable as platforms will look to avoid penalties.

It is also believed that Article 13 will kill meme generation, but advocates for the new copyright law insist these are exaggerations as the legislation includes exceptions for parody. However, according to experts, any filters that are applied will likely be ineffective and prone to errors.

Which platforms are affected?

Article 13 will affect platforms that host user-generated content like Twitter as well as those which make money from copyrighted materials such as YouTube. Non-commercial platforms like Wikipedia, cloud services like Dropbox, software development platforms like GitHub, and online marketplaces like Amazon are exempt from the reform.

Which countries are affected by Article 13?

Since most Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favor of the EU Copyright Directive, Article 13, also commonly referred to as the EU “meme ban”, will be imposed in all European countries in two years.

Article 11 also under criticism

Dubbed as the “Link Tax,” Article 11 of the EU Copyright Directive forces news aggregators like Google News and Apple News to pay news publishers for featuring snippets of their stories. It aims to protect the rights of news sites as well as increase their financial independence.

However, this would result in users seeing less news on social media as it will cost money to appear there. It could also lead to a 45% decline in traffic to smaller news sites, as per a recent experiment by Google where it displayed search results without snippets in an attempt to avoid paying fines.

What could the EU Article 13 mean for social networks?

EU Article 13 makes YouTube, Facebook, and other social networks responsible for user-uploaded, unlicensed copyright material. As such, they will have to take proactive measures to prevent copyrighted works from being shared online by their users and detect videos (as well as other content) that violates copyright before they are made available.

The legislation thereby forces these sites to implement mechanisms to automatically filter copyrighted content, such as videos, images, and songs, unless they are specifically licensed. This is where the use of “upload filters” would come into play, but many are against them because these tools are not fool-proof and can end up blocking too much.

Would the Internet change?

If you are living in the European Union, the new copyright law could drastically change how you use the Internet. Not only will the EU Article 13 threaten the creative and conversational nature of the Internet that we all have come to love today, but also it is going to contribute to universal surveillance and censorship, even if the content uploaded is legal – all in the name of protecting copyright!

When does EU article 13 go into effect?

Did Article 13 pass? Yes. However, contrary to popular opinion, the EU Copyright Directive will not be put into action immediately. Though it has received the final seal of approval from the Parliament, the reform is yet to be made into law by the member states of the EU. They will have a period of two years to translate the new rules into appropriate legislation that meets the requirements of the Directive, and from there on everyone will have to follow them.

Article 13 is now Article 17

The Copyright Directive has been worked on for more than two years, with the most controversial clause being Article 13. It is now renamed as Article 17 in the revised text, but many continue to refer to it as Article 13 despite that.

What will platforms have to do in the future?

First off, they have to do everything in their power to obtain licenses from rightsholders which is an impossible task in itself (more about this later). This applies to all for-profit platforms, even the youngest and smallest ones. The licenses should cover all user-uploads, but the legislation remains silent on how exactly this cooperation between platforms and rightsholders should work.

However, not all rightsholders would want to grant such licenses and neither can they be forced to do so. That is why the second thing platforms will need to do is ensure users do not upload unlicensed materials. As mentioned earlier, the only way to accomplish this is by using an upload filter of some kind, even though it is not explicitly mentioned in the reform.

This means that rightsholders will be able to provide platforms with their materials so that it can be added to their filter system. The content uploaded by users is then going to be cross-referenced against an extensive database to check for licenses. In the event that it is unlicensed, the content would not be allowed to go online.

Third, should any unlicensed, copyrighted material be uploaded on the platform, either due to lack of information from rightsholders or because of a technical glitch in the filter, they must delete the content and make sure it is not shared ever again. This procedure is commonly referred to as notice and takedown.

How does the EU want to avoid overblocking?

Even though Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive states that the sharing of memes and quotes between Internet users would remain unaffected, it does not specifically outline how these exceptions are to be made.

Platforms will be required to make their “best efforts” to ensure the unavailability of copyrighted materials, and so they will have no other option but to use upload filters to avoid paying fines which can result in overblocking.

Article 13 also forbids any “general monitoring obligation,” but at the same time, it demands all user-uploads to be filtered. Additionally, platforms are obliged to have a complaints process for dealing with disputed decisions.

This too, however, is unlikely to fix the problem of overblocking!

Obtaining licenses to all works is impossible

As explained above, the EU Article 13 forces all platforms to acquire licenses from rightsholders, regardless of how small they might be. If they are unable to prove that they have gone the extra mile to obtain these licenses, they will be held responsible for any copyrighted materials uploaded by users on their platform.

Because millions of Internet users in the EU share memes, videos, songs, text, and other content on platforms daily, it is virtually impossible to obtain licenses for all these works from all the respective rightsholders.

The platforms will then have no other alternative but to limit their liability by implementing upload filters to 1) ensure the unavailability of all materials supplied by rightsholders, and to 2) prevent their future upload.

Why are upload filters a bad idea?

As discussed earlier, the reform itself does not explicitly mention the use of an upload filter. But for platforms to comply with the legal requirements of EU’s Article 13 and avoid paying hefty fines, implementing filters is the only solution, experts say.

YouTube’s “Content ID” is an excellent example of similar systems. Content owners upload their files into a special database, which then scans and analyzes all videos submitted to YouTube to determine whether or not they are breaching copyright.

However, it is not always reliable and a perfect demonstration of why these filters can do more harm than good! Google has invested a whopping $100 million in its Content ID system, but overblocking continues to be a significant issue.

It also fails to distinguish between infringement and fair use. A universal filter, on the other hand, could be even more prone to errors. For instance, if someone makes a reaction video for an episode of a TV show, the filter may prevent the video from getting published.

Therefore, it is feared by opposers of the EU Copyright law that upload filters could cause hindrances in European netizens’ freedom of speech.

What Can You Do?

It is too soon to say for certain as we are yet to see how the new copyright law will be implemented, and how platforms would identify and remove copyright materials. However, if the laws are implemented how we think they are, using a VPN can help!

With PureVPN on your device, you can change your virtual location to anywhere in the world. Just connect to a server outside the EU, and voila – when you upload copyrighted materials to platforms like YouTube and Facebook, there will most likely be no consequences.

However, for a more fool-proof solution, we’d recommend getting our dedicated IP VPN and creating new accounts on all affected platforms. Using a fixed IP address from a non-EU country will better serve the purpose and will allow you to continue your online activities without restrictions.

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Why the re-vote?

The text of the EU Copyright reform was revised in the hopes of triggering a breakthrough in the joint negations between the Parliament, Commission, and Council after they reached an impasse in January 2019. They finally managed to reach an agreement, which meant that the EU member countries had to make a final vote on it.

With the vast majority of them voting in favor, the copyright law has finally made it to the implementation stage. The countries that voted against the Directive include Sweden, Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg, and Poland, whereas the countries that abstained include Estonia, Slovenia, and Belgium.

Why the new law on copyright?

The short answer is because the current copyright law dates back to 2001, which predates the real Internet era. Thus, the Copyright Directive was designed to replace the obsolete copyright law of the EU and make it work for today’s digital age.

Wikipedia blacks out over EU Copyright Directive article 13

To protest the new reform ahead of the final vote, which took place on March 25th, some European Wikipedia sites decided to go dark for the day. They blocked access and directed users to speak up against the Copyright Directive by contacting their local EU representatives. Other major sites such as Twitch and Reddit also encouraged users to do the same.

YouTube creators are fighting back

The YouTube community is not alien to copyright woes. Content creators have time and time again faced fake copyright strikes at the hands of trolls, manual copyright claims from parties that are in no way linked to the content in question, and countless claims from record companies over the smallest clip being used.

With the final vote done and dusted, EU member states now have a period of two years to write the Directive into law. As of now, it is difficult to tell exactly how they will interpret the new EU copyright rules, and how YouTube will respond, but as far as YouTuber creators are concerned, they are far from optimistic.

Prominent YouTubers like KSI, Philip De Franco, and PewDiePie are warning their audiences of the problems that could arise with the new reform. Grandayy, one of the most vocal advocates against EU’s Article 13, believes that the reaction of most YouTubers has been unanimous and the change will serve as a wake-up call to other creators to fight back.

Are memes banned in Europe now?

The main reason why EU’s Article 13 has been dubbed as the “meme killer” or “meme ban” is that nobody is sure whether memes will be banned as a result of these laws as they are usually based on copyrighted visuals.

Supports of this reform argue that memes will not be removed because they are protected as parodies, but opposers believe that filters would not be able to distinguish these differences and so they would end up getting caught in the crossfire nevertheless.

So, the EU bans memes? At the moment, it seems like memes and other creative works will not see the light of the day once these new rules go into effect. However, only time will tell, and the hope is that sanity prevails!

Does the EU article 13 apply to all websites?

The Article 13 will apply to all platforms that 1) store and give access to protected materials posted by their users, and 2) organize and promote protected materials for the purposes of making a profit. In essence, it is about platforms such as Dailymotion, YouTube, Soundcloud, and Facebook which rely on user-uploaded content. However, platforms that are falling under the following criteria would be exempted:

  • Less than 5 million unique monthly visitors
  • Annual turnover below €10 million
  • Less than 3 years of activity