Article 13 has the potential to hamstring innovation and tamp down free speech in the EU.
Technological advancements have made it easier for intellectual property rights (IPR) to be infringed and for those infringements to be seemingly perpetrated anonymously.
Content owners evolved their own technology such as using the watermark to identify the source of the live streaming as a way of enforcing their IPR, with streaming sites being closely monitored. However, with the vote to adopt into EU law the copyright directive as passed by the European Parliament March 26, content owners can rest a bit easier.
Article 13, which is the directive on copyright, requires the likes of Twitter, Dailymotion, Soundcloud, YouTube, Facebook and other streaming platforms to take more responsibility for the content shared on their platforms that might infringe a copyrighted material, and take decisive measures to control it.
Prior to the adoption of the copyright directive into law, streaming platforms weren’t responsible for copyright content being published on their platform by the users, although they were required to remove the content as and when requested by the copyright holder.
The unprecedented protest of millions of internet users to stop the adoption of the copyright directive was defamed by Parliament negotiator Axel Voss.
Genuine concerns raised by independent academics, fundamental rights defenders, independent publishers and startups were ignored. The directive, they argued, could potentially decrease online surfing and streaming freedom for a lot of users. In addition, it would create a healthy market for VPN service providers, which streaming platforms may end up needing for their videos.
How is this so?
VPNs enable users to access the web safely and privately by routing their connection through a server, keeping their online activities hidden. Streaming platforms most likely will want to capitalize on the features of a VPN to sidetrack the directive, including:
- It’s effective for encrypting your online activity.
- Your activities online are hidden from intruders.
- Your location is kept secret and you can, therefore, access geo-restricted content such as on Netflix.
- It makes you more anonymous on the web.
In 2018, when the EU implemented the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), some websites resorted to blocking users who were from the EU. They may not want to repeat those actions, but they will want to circumvent the restrictions this time around as a way of retaining their customers and making the expected ROI.
The Great Firewall of China is the closest example to the Article 13 directive. Many internet users in China rely on VPNs to get around the restrictions imposed by the Great Firewall.
These include some of the VPN industry leaders that have operated for many years, making great advances in avoiding the government’s block on VPN services. These providers have a server network that covers numerous countries and they all provide unlimited bandwidth.
The European Union does not suffer from the much-touted paranoia of China over the power of the internet to facilitate the rise of opposition to the one-party rule in the country; however, the directive will curtail freedom of speech and hamper economic growth.
Critics claim the directive will kill innovation, discourage idea exchange and block access to businesses offering streaming services. On the broader scale, if countries from other zones such as Russia, Australia, and the U.S. follow suit and implement similar oppressive restrictions on their citizens and international online companies, the idea that birthed and fueled the growth of the internet and its uninhibited exchange of information across borders will be dealt a deadly blow.
“Google also pointed to potential ‘legal uncertainty’ and claimed the law will ‘hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies,’” said Danny O’Brien, international director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. He expects that outside Europe, friends of the internet will have to brace themselves to push back against copyright maximalists attempting to export the directive to the rest of the world. “We must, and we will, regroup and stand together to stop this Directive in Europe, and prevent it from spreading further,” he said.
Brands and individuals have risen to the call-to-action. Online platforms, aggregators, websites along with digital activists are actively raising their voice against the directive.
Silicon Valley lobbying group CCIA, whose members include Facebook, Google, eBay, Amazon and Netflix, has been very vocal in its criticism of Article 13. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Tim Berners-Lee signed an open letter arguing against the directive, despite the fact that it has explicitly excluded Wikipedia and GitHub from its scope.
The directive, if allowed, will lead to what amounts to blanket censorship by streaming platforms that have become an online hub for creativity—especially YouTube, which has become the most vocal critic of the directive.
Instead of adapting to the changing times, the EU is protecting traditional media outlets by essentially destroying new media to maintain control. Competition from upcoming SMEs that have the ability to shape and transform how we consume media is hamstrung.
Article 13 is the death of free speech. It is the end of creativity and it will kill SMEs that are already struggling to find their place in the market. A free market cannot operate if it isn’t free.