It's the End of the Internet as we know it? (and I don't feel fine)
Yesterday was a bad day for the internet in Europe: after years of discussions the European Parliament passed the controversial copyright reform, and by a rather large margin: 348 votes in favour of the reform versus 274 against (36 votes were withdrawn).
The reform passed including the highly controversial articles 11 (now article 15) and 13 (now article 17). A lot was already written on those two articles, so I'm not going to repeat that, but just in short article 11 (I keep the old numbers, since they are more widely known) says that online news aggregators have to pay newspapers for using short snippets of their articles, article 13 says that online platforms have to proactively filter copyright violations before they happen (which means when material is uploaded to a website, instead of taking them down once they are discovered). If you are curious about the full text of the directive, you can find it here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/A-8-2018-0245-AM-271-271_EN.pdf (it's 148 pages full of legalese language, you have been warned, but on the plus side it is just 32 articles and a lot of blank space).
I guess that I don't have to write why article 13 is bad, even though it has some exceptions, e.g. for non-profit online encyclopaedias (which means Wikipedia) and open source software development platforms (GitHub, GitLab). The whole article was basically written with YouTube in mind, but also targets a lot of other platforms that allow users to upload their own content, which is basically all of Web 2.0, but in good old politician fashion the law was passed over 10 years after Web 2.0 took off and tries to preserve the state of before Web 2.0 was a thing.
Anyway, what was done was to basically enable a censorship infrastructure in the name of copyright. The poor artists should be strengthened against the evil megacorporations from the US, that make money with their work. I will come back to this point later. The thing is that said megacorporations already have systems in place to filter copyright violations before uploading, while smaller companies (aka start-ups) don't. I also should mention how effective those filters are: not really, they can easily be fooled or block false-positives. The world upload filter was removed from the text of the directive, but the wording basically still calls for a technical solution, so filters. Another approach would be that those platforms (the platforms, not the users) get the necessary rights from the copyright holder, but that is very tedious and expensive, especially for start-ups trying to compete with the big players.
That brings me to article 11: this article is more or less a direct attack at Google (btw. the EU really seems to like doing that. This article is pushed, claiming that "quality" journalism is dying because of the internet and someone has to pay in order to save it. Personally I'm asking myself for a rather long time, where the quality in journalism went and I have to say that it is ironic that Axel Springer, Europe's largest publishing house, claims to produce quality journalisms, since their biggest newspaper is Bild, every toilet wall has higher quality articles written on it that Bild does. Axel Springer tried to push the same thing already in Germany (and was successful), even after the same law already failed in Spain (and caused Google to shut down Google News there).
The proponents of article 11 tried to make it look like David (European authors) are fighting against Goliath (US tech companies) and they are helping David to stand a chance. Except they did not: if you need some evidence for that just look into article 12 (now article 16). This article got lost in all the heated debates around articles 11 and 13, but it is in my opinion important to have a look at it (since it's rather short, I just copy the full version here:)
Member States may provide that where an author has transferred or licensed a right to a publisher, such a transfer or licence constitutes a sufficient legal basis for the publisher to be entitled to a share of the compensation for the use of the work made under an exception or limitation to the transferred or licensed right.
The first paragraph shall be without prejudice to existing and future arrangements in Member States concerning public lending rights.
What is means is that when an author (or more general speaking an artist) allows a publisher to use his work, he has to share the royalties he receives from this work with the publisher. Especially freelancing writers are screwed because of this. Needless to say that author's aren't happy with this article. Proponents of the copyright reform claim that authors and artists are the ones they are doing this reform for, but at the same time they are taking rights away from them. Especially the second paragraph is a punch in the face of every German author: in 2016 the highest court of Germany decided, that publishers are not generally entitled to 50% of the royalties, which let the publishers to get that into the new EU copyright directive, and they again succeeded.
With this in mind it seems more and more obvious, that the reform never was about the authors or the artists, but always about the publishers. No wonder, especially when Axel Springer was aggressively lobbying and pushing their pro reform agenda in their newspapers. The old middlemen (publishers) were about to be cut out by a new one (tech companies, mostly Google) and so they went to crying to the old politicians in the European Parliament. Sounds like kindergarten, but was actually successful, and of course Axel Springer will be the biggest winner of this directive), while again the smaller publishers are most likely left out in the cold.
One could of course dig much deeper here, like it was no only Germany's fault that this directive passed, also France was a strong proponent and apparently engaged in some kind of horse-trading with Germany to get it through, but I already wrote more than 1000 words, so I guess I should come to an end soon.
As I already wrote, right now the situation seems grim: an immature law just passed that most likely will put Europe way back when it comes to innovation, it was supposed to weaken big tech companies, but it most likely will end up strengthening them and cement their power. Even though it is targeted at the big tech companies, we, the users will the ones who lose. But at the same time I am happy to see that young people all around Europe were protesting for something they believe in and made their voices heard (even though they were dismissed as being bots or being paid by Google). The other thing that makes me slightly positive is, that circumventing copyright laws, actually drove decentralisation and is quite likely to do the same thing in the future. This law strengthened the position of traditional middlemen, but luckily we have a technology at hand that cuts out all middlemen: the blockchain.