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'Catastrophe for Free Expression': Critics Warn EU Reforms a 'Dire Threat' to Internet as We Know It

"The EU is about to cripple freedom of expression on the internet in the name of protecting copyright, but you may be able to help stop it."

"The new EU Copyright Directive is progressing at an alarming rate," wrote Cory Doctorow, a special adviser to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. (Image: The Verge)

As the European Union (EU) plows ahead this week with far-reaching copyright rules that critics say would "cripple freedom of expression on the internet," privacy advocates and web defenders across the globe are raising alarm and calling on EU member states to block the measures.

"Votes in the coming weeks will determine whether huge swaths of online expression will be subject to mass, arbitrary control."
—Electronic Frontier Foundation

"The new EU Copyright Directive is progressing at an alarming rate," Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) special adviser Cory Doctorow wrote on Monday, describing the rules package as a "catastrophe for free expression."

"This week, the EU is asking its member states to approve new negotiating positions for the final language. Once they get it, they're planning to hold a final vote before pushing this drastic, radical new law into 28 countries and 500,000,000 people," Doctorow added, calling on residents of European nations to pressure their representatives to stop the directive.

While the vast majority of the rules in the sprawling Copyright Directive are "inoffensive updates to European copyright law," Doctorow points out, two specific measures—Article 11 and Article 13— "pose a dire threat to the global internet."

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Doctorow goes on to detail the implications of both rules:

  • Article 11: A proposal to make platforms pay for linking to news sites by creating a non-waivable right to license any links from for-profit services (where those links include more than a word or two from the story or its headline). Article 11 fails to define "news sites," "commercial platforms," and "links," which invites 28 European nations to create 28 mutually exclusive, contradictory licensing regimes. Additionally, the fact that the "linking right" can't be waived means that open-access, public-interest, nonprofit and Creative Commons news sites can't opt out of the system.
  • Article 13: A proposal to end the appearance of unlicensed copyrighted works on big user-generated content platforms, even for an instant. Initially, this included an explicit mandate to develop "filters" that would examine every social media posting by everyone in the world and check whether it matched entries in an open, crowdsourced database of supposedly copyrighted materials. In its current form, the rule says that filters "should be avoided" but does not explain how billions of social media posts, videos, audio files, and blog posts should be monitored for infringement without automated filtering systems.

"Taken together, these two rules will subject huge swaths of online expression to interception and arbitrary censorship, and give the largest news companies in Europe the power to decide who can discuss and criticize their reporting, and undermining public-interest, open-access journalism," Doctorow concluded.

As Common Dreams reported at the time, internet pioneers Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf warned in a June letter to European Parliament President Antonio Tajani that Article 13 of the directive would transform "the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users."

Internet freedom advocates are echoing this warning as the EU moves ahead with the Copyright Directive this week, with a final vote on the package expected as early as March.

"Stand up and be counted!" declared attorney Mike Godwin, who was EFF's first first staff counsel. "The EU is about to cripple freedom of expression on the internet in the name of protecting copyright, but you may be able to help stop it."

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