Internet pioneers sign open letter denouncing EU copyright proposal

14 Jun 2018

EU Parliament building in Brussels. Image: ilolab/Shutterstock

The EU vote on a major change to copyright law is set to take place on 20-21 June.

More than 70 internet pioneers have signed a letter speaking out against Article 13 of the EU’s latest copyright proposal. The group includes Vint Cerf, Tim Berners-Lee, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales and Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle.

The letter released on 12 June stated: “By requiring internet platforms to perform automatic filtering [on] all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”

A pivotal vote

At present, the hope for the elimination of Article 13 lies with the European Parliament (EP). The Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) will vote on the proposal on 20-21 June. If it votes against upload filtering as outlined in Article 13, negotiations between the EP and the European Commission and Council will begin.

If not, mandatory filtering of all uploaded content may become a requirement for all user content sites with business in the EU. This would affect not only memes, but parodies, remixes and other forms of free expression many internet users value. At worst, experts believe it could contribute to surveillance and censorship online.

Legal confusion

Lawyers at Morrison & Foerster said some experts argue that Article 13 would present some conflicts with other EU directives. “The commission proposed content-recognition technologies to be implemented by the providers in order to prevent copyright infringements.

“It has been posited that this provision is incompatible with the limited liability privilege set out in the E-Commerce Directive as well as in the Charter of Fundamental Rights, and will foster and privatise online censorship.”

The open letter explained that the current liability model established under the E-commerce Directive is already serving Europe well – this is where the uploader bears principal responsibility for its legality and platforms take action to remove it once they have been notified.

It claimed that inverting this liability model and “essentially making platforms directly responsible for ensuring the legality of content in the first instance” would negatively affect various digital business models. “The damage that this may do to the free and open internet as we know it is hard to predict but, in our opinions, could be substantial.”

The signatories added that the burden of Article 13 enforcement will fall most heavily on European start-ups and SMEs.

Cost concerns

The reliability and cost of implementing the automatic filtering technologies is also a concern for those who signed the document. “The technologies have still not developed to a point where their reliability can be guaranteed. Indeed, if Article 13 had been in place when [the] internet’s core protocols and applications were developed, it is unlikely that it would exist today as we know it.”

According to MEP Julia Reda, who is opposed to Article 13, there is currently a razor-thin majority in favour of the change.

The authors of the open letter continued: “We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.”

EU Parliament building in Brussels. Image: ilolab/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects