/ Policy

EU Copyright Reform - A Fake Friend & A Censorship Machine

All across Europe, nearly everyone seems to agree that the European copyright regulations need to be updated and brought into the 21st century. However, some of the proposed measures appear to be flashbacks to darker times with methods of authoritarian dictatorships. Meet the Link Tax and Upload Filters.

The story starts with a law proposal for a reform in copyright. So far so good. Unfortunately though, Article 11 and Article 13 were born.

"What are these link tax and upload filters about?" , you might wonder.

Wonder no more, here's our very short explanation.

Art 11 - Link Tax

This article introduces a new "ancilliary right". With it, links to news and the use of titles, headlines and fragments of information could now become subject to licensing. Basically, one would have to pay for the use of link snippets.

Art 13 - Upload Filters

Every platform with user generated content (Wikipedia, Github, 9GAG, Facebook etc) would be required to introduce a content recognition system to detect possible copyright infringements. These systems should screen all images, video and audio files before making them available to the EU public.

Photo: Werner Reiter for epicenter.works

"Mkay, but what's wrong with that?" , you might further wonder.

Wonder no more, here's us again summing up a rather long list of pretty BIG issues of both Article 11 and Article 13.

Art 11 - A Fake Friend

Journalists and publishers might look at this initiative and see extra $ in their pockets: everytime an online article is shared, they'd get payed for the link's snippet. Ever heard about Hansel & Gretel's adventure in the sweet looking house?

Photo: vdelrey

Here's a few points on why the tax link is really something journalists and publishers should take note of, research and not let themselves lured into.

1. Similar national laws failed. Bigly.
A study requested by the EU Parliament looked into similar national laws in Germany and Spain, where such "link taxes" have been put up in place. Actors from the largest newspapers and the responsible collecting societies were interviewed.

The research concluded that even publishers oppose the ‘link tax’ – and some journalists are afraid to speak out against it.

“There are real concerns surrounding the rather uncertain effects of the right. […] We [advise] that the press publishers’ right be abandoned“

You can read the full study here: Strengthening the Position of Press Publishers and Authors and Performers in the Copyright Directive and a summary of it here: EU study finds even publishers oppose the ‘link tax’ – and some journalists are afraid to speak out

Questions about the topic and in Copenhagen? Join OptIn4Privacy's event on the 7th of December.

2. Hyperlink Attack
As MEP Julia REDA explains:

Because readers need to know what a link leads to before clicking, sites almost always include a snippet of the linked-to content as part of a link. Any limitation on snippets is therefore a limitation on linking.

It is important to understand that these snippets are now part of every linked shared on most platforms. It is the rule, not an exception for a link to be presented with a snippet. Imposing a license on snippets would translate into imposing a license on the rule of thumb behind links.

3. An Incentive for 'fake news'
News content from publishers with high reputation will be less likely to be shared because of expensive costs or legal risks. In this environment, 'fake news' armies and propaganda outlets will be offered for free, with no charge for snippets - Cheap and convenient? The news landscape will be dominated by the free option available on the market, content of poor journalistic quality, produced on political demand - fake news.


4. Small = Out of competition = Less Diversity of Opinions
Having to pay in order to display snippets means increased costs for a news aggregator. This cost will only be supported by big news aggregators, such as Google News. Small, independent news aggregators will not be able to incurr such costs and will therefore be forced out of the game.


As soon as quality news are kept in the hands of the few, it is predictable what the power of those hands can do. Public opinion and public perception of current state of affairs can be easily massaged and guided into desired directions.

5. Killing innovative startups
The News aggregation field requires disruptive approaches to its current models. MEP Julia Reda comments that

News related startups are likely to be discouraged, even though this sectors is in particular need of innovation and experimentation to find new business models, ways of reaching audiences, fact-checking and combating fake news etc., as technology advances.

In general, the startup environment will receive a big hit if this EU Copyright Reform passes in its current form. This article has many other consequences we do not have the space to describe in this entry. If you would like to read more about it, you can do it here: Extra Copyright for News Websites

Art 13 - The Censorship machine

Now, we jump to perhaps the most worrying aspect of the proposed EU COpyright Reform. Here's a selected few of the reasons why this article is utterly wrong:

1. It's illegal
Such filters have been already rejected by the EU Court of Justice. CJEU ruled (Netlog case) in the past that a social network cannot be obliged to install a general filtering system, covering all its users, in order to prevent the unlawful use of musical and audio-visual work as this would go against EU's Charter on Fundamental Rights.

2. It can be easily repurposed for political censorship
According to the proposal, this content recognition and filtering
should be carried out proactively – meaning that the content will have to be filtered and censored as it is uploaded and before it is available to the public. Such a system would constantly surveil each and every upload.

The risk of abuse if these kinds of systems are installed on all platforms would be colossal: The difference between a liberal democracy and an authoritarian dictatorship would be as minuscule as the flip of a switch changing the configuration of the censorship system, since the same system could easily censor any kind of content.

Thomas Lohninger, Executive Director at epicenter.works, warns:

Restrictions of the freedom of information and communication are characteristic for dictatorships. Now the EU wants to legally introduce a measure which fulfils the exact same purpose.

In fact, the current UNESCO report "World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development” shows some dramatic figures. The number of internet shutdowns by governments has tripled over the course of just two years, with 61 cases of internet shutdowns in 2017 alone. Is this the internet you want to experience?

3. Algorithms have bad judgement
They cannot distinguish between the actual infringement of rights and perfectly legal use of work. For example, the use of works for parody and satire or quotations of works for criticism or review would be blocked by such a system. You'd have to say goodbye to movie/music video - inspired memes.

No more Leo DiCapri, no more Drake dancing moves. Filters have a pretty bad sense of humour, they don't really get and they'll censor it all as if you'd wanna make money of your meme. Curious about more examples of filters' fails? Read'em here.

4. They increase Google's data monopoly
The only currently available implementation of such a content recognition system which is somewhat functional is “ContentID”, the system Google developed for YouTube. Smaller platforms like Wikipedia or Github as well as e-learning systems used by universities (such as Moodle) would have to use ContentID and forward the entirety of the content submitted to them by their users to Google.

5. A big expense for small platforms
The introduction of such systems would mean substantial expenses for platforms. This would result in European companies either using Google's ContentID or else having to invest substantially in developing their own content recognition systems. A significant commercial damage to European startups and SMEs can be caused, but also to well-known platforms that work in the public domain or user-generated content like Wikipedia and Github.

Claudia Garád, Executive Director of Wikimedia in Austria, states that

Should Wikipedia implement upload filters, the project would not be able to go on. We would have to protractedly authorise every single contribution or image – an unnecessary obstacle which would greatly complicate the work of our community, or even make it outright impossible.

The EU Copyright Reform posses major threats for democracy, internet freedom and openess and a healthy development of EU Market. It proposes an unrealistic solution for increasing publisher revenues and it sets the skeleton of a censorship machine that can, at any time, be used to implement authoritarian measures on the population.

If you have questions about Article 11 and Article 13, join our informative events. The first one is on the 7th of December 2017. The second event is on the 17th of January 2018.

If you cannot wait until then and are already outraged (and rightly so) about this situation, you can contact your country's Member of European Parliament. The campaign websites Save the Meme and Change Copyright offer easy ways to get into contact with MEPs and to convince them to stop these dangerous developments and stand up for a copyright reform which actually faces the challenges and needs of the internet in the 21st century.