Tuesday, March 26, 2019

EU copyright reform approved: less diversity on the Internet

The European Parliament today adopted the Copyright Directive, rejecting any amendment to the latest draft. This provides the basis for the destruction of diversity on the Internet.

The main criticism of the reform is Article 13 (after the final numbering Article 17). It is addressed to online content-sharing service providers – in particular YouTube and other social networks, but also forum operators. In the future, these providers will have to ensure that authors can put their works, for which they do not want to grant a licence to the provider, on a blacklist and achieve that these contents cannot be published on the platform. Some call it an upload filter, while others call it recognition software.

Article 17 makes service providers liable for copyright infringements insofar as they do not reasonably prevent such infringements. Those who do not have their own recognition software or cannot have it developed, will have to buy such filter services in order to avoid the liability risk. The platforms for which this is not profitable are very likely to close.

Another possible scenario is that instead of developing filtering software, providers will only allow selected, trusted users on the platform who they believe will not commit copyright infringements. YouTube could also do this. The company already has one of the best detection softwares in the world, but only for movies and music. The new Copyright Directive requires all works to be recognized, including texts, photos, sculptures, performances, and so on. Whether YouTube will further develop its software for the European market or instead delete small YouTube channels is not known.

For COVER.INFO, deleting small YouTube channels would mean losing many of the over 200,000 audio clips of songs hosted on YouTube linked to our database. Not all songs were uploaded by the copyright holders themselves, but there are also many record collectors who make sold-out records available to the interested public via YouTube. This archive of cultural assets threatens to be deleted.

In order to exclude this danger, another regulation would have been preferable, for example one that excludes providers from liability if they have concluded licence agreements with the major collecting societies, without, however, excluding the possibility that authors conclude licence agreements directly with the providers.

The detection software (or upload filters), however, also bring with them another great danger: the problem of false detections, which could also block legitimate content (so-called overblocking). For example, videos with rights-free piano music from composers who have been dead for a long time can be blocked because a record company has put a similar-sounding recording of the same piece on the blacklist. Or a song contains the purring of a cat and users can therefore no longer upload cat videos.

No matter how the providers implement the new specifications: The copyright reform will probably result in a noticeable decline in the variety of offers on the Internet.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Save your Internet from the new Copyright Directive! [UPDATE 03/22/2019]

The EU wants to endanger freedom of expression on the Internet with an inadequate copyright directive. The German government gave the green light for this in the Council of the European Union even in violation of the coalition agreement. The implementation of the directive could lead to censorship on Internet platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but also in Internet forums and comment areas under newspaper and blog articles in order to rule out copyright infringements. It's not too late to protest. On March 26, the European Parliament will vote on the directive.

The final draft of the Copyright Directive has triggered a huge wave of protests on the Internet, especially among young people, which has largely gone unheard by traditional media such as television, radio and newspapers. This only changed this week, after several thousand people in different mainly German cities had been bringing their protests from the Internet onto the streets and demonstrating mainly against Article 13 of the directive for a good two weeks. The demonstrations will continue this weekend.

In its German section, the website www.savetheinternet.info announces the current dates for demos in Germany.

Article 13 is the main point of criticism of the new DIRECTIVE OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. COVER.INFO first reported on November 8, 2018. Meanwhile, the final version of the draft has leaked and will be submitted to the European Parliament for a vote on March 26.

Unfortunately, this is the worst possible version of the draft, as it threatens the fundamental right to freedom of expression. Currently, platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter work in such a way that users are responsible for protecting copyright. If the user infringes third-party rights when uploading, he is liable, but not the platform, if it deletes the content immediately as soon as it becomes aware of it.

Article 13 now requires online content sharing service providers to ensure that content can only be published if the respective platform (!) has permission from the copyright holder to do so.

Each platform should now try to acquire the rights from the authors. On this point, the directive requires something that is practically impossible. Every platform would have to try to conclude contracts with every author in the world, regardless of whether they were pictures, music, texts or other works.

Where the rights cannot be obtained, the platform should make best efforts to prevent the publication of works for which the rights could not be acquired. Otherwise, the platform shall be liable for copyright infringements.

But here, too, the proposal for the directive demands something impossible. How is a platform supposed to know whether a user upload infringes copyright? The best efforts it can make is to use so-called upload filters. This means that an algorithm compares uploaded content with known works and blocks the content if it matches. Such a computer program cannot detect whether the use of a third-party work was permitted and would therefore also block permitted use such as in satirical works or as a quotation. Especially expressions of opinion live from dealing with the opinions of others and quoting them for this purpose. Upload filters thus attack freedom of expression.

However, these filters can only block content they know. In order to store and synchronize the entire works, immense storage and computing capacities are required that only large companies can afford. Nevertheless, a liability risk remains if the filter fails because it does not know works and therefore does not recognize them or for other reasons.

YouTube already has such a filter for comparison with copyrighted films and music. It is regarded as the best and most expensive upload filter in the world, but even this filter would not meet the requirements of the directive and would have to be developed further. For example, it would have to have images and texts in its repertoire and would also have to be able to detect them in videos. Nevertheless, anyone using YouTube's filter would certainly meet the requirements of the directive to make best efforts. Therefore, we have to fear that YouTube will make the use of its filter available to other providers and thus become even more powerful, because now the contents of the other platforms are transferred to YouTube who can collect even more data.

But not every platform will be able to afford upload filters. According to the directive, however, even a newly founded platform will have to meet the requirements after three years at the latest – no matter how profitable it is. The Internet will probably be unrecognizable, especially if Article 13 of the directive is adopted, because many platforms in Europe would have to close their doors. The big ones that remain may only allow selected people to publish content; those they can trust they will not infringe copyrights.

The young people who are taking to the streets in Germany these days are protesting mainly against the parties CDU/CSU and SPD. The reason for this is that the representatives of these parties intend to vote for the copyright reform with their controversial Article 13 in the European Parliament on March 26, even though they had stipulated in the current coalition agreement that they would oppose upload filters because they considered them to be disproportionate. The German government, on the other hand, has already voted in favor of the reform in the Council of the European Union because it is predominantly reasonable. It accepted that Article 13 was not sufficiently clearly formulated.

Another criticism of the reform, by the way, is Article 11, which could also lead to the Web soon looking different from what it does today. In many social media it is now common for a hyperlink to be posted with a thumbnail and a short excerpt of the link's destination. Result pages of news search engines are also based on this principle. Article 11 requires that press publishers be given the right to demand payment if the link target is their site.

The press therefore has an interest in presenting the copyright reform as something useful. It would probably have preferred not to report on it at all, as long as heated discussions were conducted on the Internet only. Now that people are taking them to the streets, the press feels obliged to report, but in some cases, the press presents it as if the demonstrators were just children and adolescents who had been instrumentalized by YouTube. CDU politicians have even denied that the many complaining e-mails they received about the copyright reform came from people. They accused Google, as the operator of YouTube, of having generated and sent these e-mails through bots, i.e. computer programs. This can be seen from the fact that the mails were predominantly sent from Gmail addresses. The fact that this is simply because YouTube users as Google customers also have Google Mail accounts is ignored consciously.

While there will be demonstrations in some German cities this weekend and next, Europe-wide demonstrations against the copyright reform are planned for March 23. As Julia Reda, member of the European Parliament of the Pirate Party, told us, Manfred Weber (CDU), the leading candidate of the European People's Party, is said to have tried to accelerate the vote on the directive, so that the European Parliament can anticipate the citizens' protests and create accomplished facts. In any case, the version of the directive to be submitted to the Parliament has not yet been translated into all the official languages of the EU. However, the English version of the working paper was not officially made available to the public either, so that a substantive debate on the directive could only take place after it had been unofficially leaked to the outside world.

The idea of reforming copyright law, adapting it to today's realities and providing authors with appropriate remuneration is to be welcomed. Most opponents of Article 13 also see it that way. However, the provision in Article 13 is quite simply unsuitable for achieving this objective. On the contrary, it threatens to destroy the Internet in its present form, with which many creative authors earn their living. Not only would a good entertainment network be lost, but if every platform were to filter on a large scale for fear of liability for copyright infringements, freedom of expression being one of the fundamental pillars of our democracy is endangered.

That is why it is important to raise our voices and protest against Article 13 of the Copyright Directive. The locations and dates of the demos can be found at https://savetheinternet.info/demos.

Update March 22, 2019:
The draft of the directive has been finalized now with new numbering. Article 11 is Article 15 now (page 116 of the linked PDF file), and Article 13 becomes Artikel 17 (page 120). The term "online content-sharing service providers" in this last article is defined in Article 2 no. 6 (page 90). The European Parliament will vote about it on March 26. The translations into all official languages of the European Union are finished now. Julia Reda explains how to find them.