Killing Parody, Killing Memes, Killing the Internet?

By Joe McNamee of European Digital Rights 

We love the internet because it creates fantastic opportunities to express ourselves and to innovate.

But do we love it enough to pass it on to future generations?

Nearly 20 years ago, politicians made decisions that gave us the internet we have today. Visionary policy-makers decided not to punish internet companies for the actions of their customers. This created legal certainty to allow companies to build their businesses, reduced incentives to censor communications and allowed the internet to flourish.

 

It is our duty to protect this freedom.

Crazily, only one article of the European Union’s draft Copyright Directive (PDF) threatens to destroy this positive model, both in the EU and globally.

Article 13, fewer than 250 words, is designed to provoke such legal uncertainty that internet companies will have no option other than to block, filter and monitor our communications, if they want to have any chance of staying in business. Ultimately, only the current internet giants, shedding crocodile tears at the prospect, will be able to survive. From global internet to “Googlebook”.

The 250 words and their explanatory notes contain five proposals that would destroy the fundamental building blocks of internet freedom.

1. Companies as the villains

The title of the key provision of the Copyright Directive includes the words “use of protected content by information society service providers”. In other words, it is companies’ use of the content, not their users’. They are doing it. If any contents violating copyright is found on their websites, if they do not censor enough information, they are guilty. This approach is reinforced by amendments tabled in the European Parliament that shifts responsibility for “making available” of content, generated or uploaded by the users, onto the companies.

2. Moving the goalposts

Under EU law, companies that store files for their customers (“hosting” companies) are not responsible for illegal or unauthorised content about which they have no knowledge. The new Directive redefines this activity in a way that virtually no hosting company would be covered by this protection

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