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EU Clamps Down on Freedom of Speech in name of Copyright Protection

April 5, 2019

Julia Reda of the Pirate Party warns that the law does not protect creators, but large interest groups. Internet platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter will install filters and ban access to material individuals upload who do not buy the rights for everything they use

Julia Reda of the Pirate Party warns that the law does not protect creators, but large interest groups. Internet platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter will install filters and ban access to material individuals upload who do not buy the rights for everything they use


EU Clamps Down on Freedom of Speech in name of Copyright Protection

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Last week, the European Parliament approved legislation that threatens to change the way the Internet works in Europe, and possibly even in the entire world. The legislation known as Article 11 and Article 13 amends intellectual property rights to put the responsibility of protecting copyrighted materials on the Internet on platforms such as Facebook,Twitter, and YouTube. These platforms would be held far more accountable to copyright infringements on their websites than was previously the case. Also, the legislation would restrict the concept of “fair use” and allows only very brief citations from news stories or music to be incorporated in user-created content. The law still needs to be approved by the European Commission this coming October and is expected to pass at that point. National governments would then have two years to implement it across Europe. Activists in Europe have launched protests against the new legislation. And here’s a brief video, a parody, mocking the new legislation. [Soundbite.]

Such parody videos, however, would also be at risk of censorship because they reference trademarked corporate symbols. Joining me now to discuss the implications of this new E.U. copyright law is Julia Reda. She’s a member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party in Germany and she has been a vocal opponent of E.U. copyright legislation. Thanks for joining us today, Julia.

JULIA REDA: Hello.

GREG WILPERT: The language used to justify Articles 11 and 13 that legislate the new copyright protections is that of protecting artists and small independent journalists who create content that is copied and used by others, but who would normally never get paid for it. Is this a real problem in Europe– the paying of these small producers of copyrighted, potentially copyrighted, material? And if so, what is your suggestion on how to compensate creative people for their work?

JULIA REDA: It is a real problem that the average income of creative people is very low compared to other sectors. Unfortunately, this copyright reform is not really addressing the root problems of this effect, but rather is trying to solve a big industry battle that has been happening between large media companies on the one hand and large technology companies on the other hand. So the proposal regarding the use of copyright-protected content on online platforms, does not actually ensure that money ends up in the pockets of the actual original creators, but rather it is trying to put direct liability for copyright infringement on the online platform. So if a user uploads something that is a copyright infringement, the platform somehow has to prevent that before it even happens. And the danger is that this type of pre-censorship of uploaded material, is only possible with upload filters that automatically try to detect such infringements and very often also delete legal content that is uploaded by creators themselves. So it could inadvertently hurt their ability to make a living and to reach their audiences online.

GREG WILPERT: You’ve written on your website that the legislation serves strong interests who stand to benefit from the Internet filters. That is, the ones that would set up these filters, the major platforms. Now who exactly would that benefit?

JULIA REDA: So the main beneficiaries of the upload filtering proposals are large rights holder organizations, such as the major record labels, film studios, or collecting societies who hope that faced with this burden of having to install quite expensive and complicated upload filters, platforms would rather try to negotiate blanket licenses with them for their repertoire. This is especially a wish from the music industry who sees YouTube, in particular, as a kind of modern jukebox or an alternative to Spotify in hopes that this law will help them get higher revenues from music played on YouTube. The problem is that the vast majority of copyrighted works on the Internet is held not by these large corporations, but by the individuals who have created this content. And most copyright holders– so, people who have created something themselves and uploaded it to those platforms– actually have no interest in exploiting it commercially or actually want it to be shared with other people. And you also have a lot of online platforms that actually are quite beneficial to creators but cannot prevent that any kind of copyright infringement could theoretically happen there. So we’re talking about platforms such as Patreon or Kickstarter, which users use themselves in order to raise money for their next album, for writing a book, or something like that. And all of these platforms would have to install upload filters, even though copyright infringement is not a big problem on the platform, and the money that would be required to buy those uploads filters would be money not ending up with the actual creators.

GREG WILPERT: Well it seems like basically this whole project would significantly restrict creativity in general since so much creativity depends on borrowing ideas from other producers of these ideas or things that are already out there in the world. Wouldn’t you say so?

JULIA REDA: It’s definitely a big problem because artists are the ones who are most reliant upon a vibrant ecosystem of different online platforms where they can express themselves and many people have built a career on these new online platforms without having to rely on a traditional record label or a publisher. I think that this law will create a situation that is more comparable to cable television, where you have a small number of gatekeeper companies that can decide what can get broadcast to a large number of people. And this would really limit the innovative capability of the Internet which is that anyone can gain access to a large audience and possibly make a living with their art, provided that they use the Internet efficiently to their own benefit.

GREG WILPERT: Now finally, Europe is not the only place in the world in which large corporations are trying to influence policy for their own benefit. Do you expect other countries will imitate the E.U. and legislate similar restrictions?

JULIA REDA: I think it’s quite possible that these laws will be introduced in other countries as well because I think there are justified grievances about the business practices of large, online platforms that make this kind of legislation seem attractive at first glance. So for example, there are legitimate concerns about data privacy, about not paying a fair share of taxes, about anti-trust related to these large, online platforms. And the copyright law has been presented to legislators as a way of rebalancing the power between large platforms and the rest of society. I think, in fact, if this law is implemented a few years down the road, you will see that large, online platforms like Google and Facebook will be the only ones who can cope with this loss. They are the only ones who can build the quite complex upload filters and eventually, we end up strengthening their power rather than reducing it. The problem is by the time that we see these negative effects, it will be several years from now because member states have two years before they have to implement this legislation into their national copyright law. And during that time, I’m pretty sure that the European Commission is going to promote this legislation as groundbreaking as a way of regulating online platforms and it will probably find a lot of interest in other parts of the world. So, I can only caution against copying this legislation at a time when we are not yet seeing the real-life threats.

GREG WILPERT: Okay. We’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Julia Reda, member of the European Parliament for the Pirate Party in Germany. Thanks again, Julia, for having joined us today.

JULIA REDA: Thank you very much.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.