The Internet is our greatest and most egalitarian public sphere: Never before was it possible for everyone to publish their creative works worldwide, at no cost, without seeking anyone’s approval. But some want to change that.

cc-by Karl Baron

The open and participatory internet was made possible by laws that protect internet providers and online platforms from liability: It’s not the duty of platforms to monitor everything users do. It’s not their fault if users commit copyright infringement – as long as they promptly react when informed of any such occurrence.

Without these laws, there would be no YouTube and no SoundCloud today. For most of us, the internet would be more like cable TV: We could consume, but we couldn’t take part.

Documents leaked today by Statewatch expose: The governments of France, Spain and Portugal are pushing to redesign the web away from openness and towards the tight control of cable TV, where a few big companies get to say what goes on the air.

Cheerleading censorship machines

The governments of France, Spain and Portugal want to double down on a law proposed by the European Commission that would force all kinds of internet platforms to install a “censorship machine” to surveil all uploads and try to prevent copyright infringement. They want to add to the Commission proposal that platforms need to automatically remove media that has once been classified as infringing, regardless of the context in which it is uploaded (“staydown”).

By law, every video clip of your cat that you share with an app would need to pass through filters controlled by media companies. Essentially, they would have a veto right to any upload to the internet. These filters would be unable to safeguard your rights to quote, to make parodies, and to use existing works in any other way allowed under copyright exceptions.

YouTube already has similar filters in place. Under pressure from rightsholders, it was one of the first platforms to turn them into a business model. Experience shows that these filters regularly remove legal content and bully less powerful creators. Today, many rightsholders concede that “Content ID” has only served to make YouTube more powerful, yet that has not stopped the music industry from lobbying to make these “censorship machines” mandatory everywhere.

Ending the law that made the web possible

But these 3 countries want to go even further: They explicitly state that they want to strip away the crucial liability protection from internet platforms altogether. Every app, every site and every startup company that allows users to upload media and offers “functionalities such as categorization, recommendations [or] playlists” could directly be sued for any copyright infringement their users commit.

This would kill off many such platforms in Europe and discourage any new ones from developing.

An attack on Freedom of speech

Just as these three countries were making their plans, dozens of human rights organisations and independent academics were warning in no unclear terms what these very ideas would lead to:

“[This] would place a disproportionate burden on platform providers […] [It would] lead to the systematic screening of personal data. […] The filtering systems would deprive users of the room for freedom of expression.”
56 professors and scholars of copyright and internet law (October 20)

The requirement to filter content in this way would violate freedom of expression. […] [It] will lead to excessive filtering and deletion of content and limit the freedom to impart information on the one hand, and the freedom to receive information on the other.”
An alliance of more than 50 human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders (October 16)

These 3 governments claim to be representing the interests of their people as they push for these terrible ideas. If you live in France, Spain or Portugal but do not support these plans, now is the time to tell your representatives and your local media!

Meanwhile, the other member states must stand up to the three copyright bullies in the European Council.

We can’t let the internet become more like cable TV to enforce the interests of a few big companies. Tweet this!

To the extent possible under law, the creator has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.

My name is Julia, I'm the Pirate in the European Parliament.

I'm fighting to make copyright in the EU unified, progressive and fit for the future. Will you join me?

5 comments

  1. 1
    Roel de Vries

    Strange that Southern European countries are blocking freedom of speech and freedom ofcontent. Makes me wonder why… Countries with specific regions with revolutionary ideas may be?

    • As someone who lives in one of those three countries (which doesn’t have any clue of an upcoming revolution) I can tell you from past experiences that we usually are the test drive for a lot of stuff in regulation. So, my guess is that they’re trying it in southern europe, learn, adapt and eventually spread it across the EU. Long live VPN’s and GPG.

    • Paul Chitescu

      Southern countries (at least in the northern hemisfere) seem to have higher levels of corruption.

      My theory is that the capability of the average or below individual to survive alone all year long does not promote establishing “proper” social contracts. In colder countries without society’s help few would survive one winter after the other.

      • Love your theory Paul, I live in France and we’re still in the dark ages, nobody ever tried to work on a “proper” social contract (maybe just a few guys during the 18th century but no one remember them…)
        If i’m tired of the sun on day i’ll go to the UK and enjoy the social system of a developed country.

    • You can’t be serious. Awake from the long sleep! Your freedom of speech is not working for years now!

What do you think?