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.

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