The European Parliament has just voted by 438-226 to vandalise the open Internet with a truly absurd set of proposals that will undermine independent media, further distort the political debate, and radically impact the way citizens use the Internet.
The two most controversial proposals in the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market legislation are article 11 and article 13 which have been dubbed the Link Tax and Upload Filters.
The Link Tax seeks to financially penalise any websites that use more than “individual words” of an article to describe what is being linked to. Thus the automatic previews of hyperlinked articles on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter will fall foul of the Link Tax for including the full title of the article and a subheading or extract from the article.
Even linking to an article with a text link that quotes from the article would fall foul of this ridiculous new law.
The Link Tax proposal puts the onus on EU member states to ensure that the sites where the hyperlinks are posted pay financial compensation to the news organisations that are being linked to.
The absurdity of this should be obvious to all but the worst Internet illiterates. What the EU is proposing is that in return for hosting free adverts to mainstream media websites on their platforms, social media organisations should have to pay them compensation!
The obvious get-around for this absurd legislation would be for social media platforms to block automatically generated hyperlink previews when users post links to their platforms.
So instead of getting a picture, the title of the article, and a subheading/short extract, the hyperlink would simply display as a plain link, essentially creating a lucky dip instead of the current situation in which social media users are given a foretaste of what they’re likely to find on the link they’re considering clicking.
Another option would be for social media sites to eradicate the link tax problem altogether by blocking links to mainstream news sites altogether.
Whatever the social media platforms decide to do to combat the threat of the Link Tax, it would undoubtedlycreate a massive incentive for them to favour highly partisan political dark ads (that they get paid to promote) over hyperlinks to independent media sites and mainstream media news organisations that they would face financial penalties for hosting on their sites if they include even the most rudimentary of previews!
It’s extraordinarily difficult to see how any mainstream media organisation could be in favour of wrecking hyperlink previews of their articles through such wild copyright extremism, especially since they actually design their hyperlink previews to attract as many people as possible from social media onto their own websites, but that’s where the all pressure for this ludicrous legislation is coming from, and if you Google search “Link Tax” you’ll hardly find any mainstream news outlet describing the policy, let alone critiquing it.
The concept of upload filters is perhaps even more radical copyright extremism than the link tax. Upload Filters put the onus upon all but the smallest of websites to constantly scan their comments sections for copyrighted material.
The logical step for most small websites would be to severely restrict their comments sections to block the upload of images and/or hyperlinks, or just shut their comments sections down altogether.
Another deeply concerning aspect of the Article 13 proposal is that it looks set to outlaw memes, because once an image has been added to the EU’s proposed database of copyrighted images, people will find themselves blocked from uploading copies for the purpose of parody, commentary and/or criticism.
An assault on the open Internet
By effectively outlawing hyperlink previews, banning memes, putting onerous burdens on small independent websites, and giving social media platforms a massive financial incentive to prioritise partisan political dark ads over legitimate political commentary, the EU are seeking to radically reform the way that citizens use the Internet.
The mainstream media organisations and the political elitists are clearly absolutely terrified of the way that the Internet and social media platforms have opened up political discourse to ordinary citizens, but this effort to use copyright extremism to stamp out the threat is the wild flailing of people who don’t even understand the phenomena they’re trying to crush.
They’re trying to attack citizen journalism and restore political discourse to the carefully curated pro-neoliberal echo chambers of the 1990s and early 2000s.
But now that people have got used to being their own news curators and commentators through social media, the sharing of hyperlinks, memes, blogs, and the comments sections on assorted websites, they’re going to see it as a massive invasion of their free speech when the EU attack the sharing of hyperlinks on social media, outlaw popular memes, and enforce the restriction/closure of comments sections on all manner of websites to avoid the onerous burden of continually scanning them for copyright infringements.
The Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and the World Wide Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee are two of the most famous opponents of this copyright extremism from the EU. Other opponents come from across the political spectrum, the academic community, a coalition of open science advocates, multiple media companies who are the intended beneficiaries of this nonsense, and even the European Copyright Society!
Hypocrisy or idiocy?
If you look at the social media feeds of the MEPs who voted in favour of this copyright extremism, their feeds are full of hyperlink previews of articles on mainstream media sites, yet they’re pushing for these hyperlink previews to be outlawed.
These people are either disgraceful hypocrites who think there should be one copyright law for them and another much harsher copyright law for everyone else, or they’re idiots who don’t even understand the legislation they’re supporting, or anything about the Internet other than how to open their Facebook/Twitter account.
What the hell are Labour playing at?
Unfortunately the majority of Labour Party MEPs in the European Parliament actually voted in favour of this nonsense, proving that a. they don’t have a clue what they’re doing, and b. they’re intent on defying the will of Labour Party members who would surely mostly oppose what’s being proposed if the mainstream media actually bothered to explain what the EU are plotting.
No wonder people hate the EU
I’ve continually argued against Brexit because the concept of enabling an unprecedented hard-right anti-democratic Tory power grab to escape from the EU is a classic out of the frying pan into the fire situation.
The EU’s blatant bias in favour of copyright extremists who want to radically reform the Internet to restore their own power and influence is grotesque.
The shockingly incompetent way they’re going about imposing this copyright extremism agenda is infuriating.
And their tone-deaf response to critics of their Link Tax and Upload Filters proposals is all too reminiscent of their aloof and contemptuous dismissal of widespread concerns about the TTIP corporate power grab.
The fight isn’t over
The copyright extremists may have won this battle to radically restructure the Internet in their own favour and interfere with the way ordinary citizens behave online, but the fight isn’t over yet.
The European parliament must debate these rules with the European Commission before they bring it back for the final vote, and even if they win the final vote, there are clear grounds for fighting these proposals in the courts, given the radical impact they’ll have on free speech and free political expression.