Spanish and Italian Wikipedia go dark to protest EU copyright law proposals

4 Jul 2018

Wikipedia logo. Image: photo_pw/Shutterstock

Wikipedia in Italy and Spain blocked all articles in protest of the recent EU vote to implement certain changes to copyright laws within the bloc.

Last month’s vote on a controversial set of proposals to change copyright law in the EU left many stunned following a victory for those who want the alterations to be made.

Yesterday (3 July), both the Spanish-language and Italian Wikipedia sites blocked readers from viewing entries in protest over the danger the new laws would present to Wikipedia and other websites.

The European Committee on Legal Affairs voted in favour of adopting the EU Copyright Directive – the first update to European copyright legislation since 2001. The EU parliamentary vote is due to take place on 5 July.

Issues within the bill centred around Articles 11 and 13, and included the requirement for websites to implement a content filtering system to prevent the use of copyrighted works on the platform, and a so-called ‘link tax’.

Wikipedia could be at risk

The editors of Italian Wikipedia warned that the site would be in danger.

The statement read: “On July 5, 2018, the Plenary of the European Parliament will vote whether to proceed with a copyright directive proposal, which, if approved, will significantly harm the openness of the internet.

“The directive, instead of updating the copyright laws in Europe and promoting the participation of all the citizens to the society of information, threatens online freedom and creates obstacles to accessing the web, imposing new barriers, filters and restrictions.

“If the proposal would be approved in its current form, it could be impossible to share a news article on social networks, or find it through a search engine; Wikipedia itself would be at risk.”

English-language readers of Wikipedia were not cut off from reading articles; instead, a large banner advert with calls to action is visible at the top of the homepage.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales responded to a tweet from the European Commission:

When asked why all the Wikipedia sites did not go dark, Wales explained that the communities in each territory make such decisions separately.

Legislation criticised for lack of clarity

Legislators at the EU tried to create an exception in Article 13 for platforms such as Wikipedia, but the vague wording of the exception and the article in general saw the EFF outline the difficulties Wikipedia would still encounter under the projected rules. “And, since every member state will get to make its own rules for quotation and linking, Wikipedia posts will have to satisfy a patchwork of contradictory rules, some of which are already so severe that they’d ban any items in a ‘Further Reading’ list unless the article directly referenced or criticised them.

Activist Corey Doctorow wrote: “Articles 13 and 11 are poorly thought through, poorly drafted, unworkable and dangerous. The collateral damage they will impose on every realm of public life can’t be overstated.”

Communications director at NordVPN, Ruby Gonzalez, said: “AI filters that all websites will have to implement are very bad at detecting the nuanced difference between plagiarism and the concept of fair use, satire or derivative works.

“If this directive passes, we may lose the ability to share an article on Facebook or find it via Google. In fact, Wikipedia might have to close down.”

Proponents of the changes, including German MEP Axel Voss, explained that the alterations in Article 13 could correct “an extreme imbalance” in the copyright system. The aim with Article 11 is to drive traffic to the homepage of news sites, but critics say the wording is also too vague.

Wikipedia logo. Image: photo_pw/Shutterstock

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