Greenlighting 'Censorship Machine,' EU Adopts Controversial Copyright Rules

Open Internet advocates are criticizing European Union member states' passage of the Copyright Directive. (Photo:

Greenlighting 'Censorship Machine,' EU Adopts Controversial Copyright Rules

"This is a deeply disappointing result which will have a far-reaching and negative impact on freedom of speech and expression online."

European Union member states were accused of threatening freedom of speech and online expression--and ignoring the will of millions of people--after they adopted controversial new copyright rules.

Six member states--Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Finland, and Sweden--voted against the proposal. Three others--Belgium, Estonia, and Slovenia--abstained. Nineteen voted in favor.

The completion of the final hurdle of the new Copyright Directive comes after the European Parliament passed the rules last month--a move German MEP Julia Reda called a "dark day for internet freedom."

"With today's agreement," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Monday, "we are making copyright rules fit for the digital age. Europe will now have clear rules that guarantee fair remuneration for creators, strong rights for users, and responsibility for platforms."

Not so, says the Save Your Internet campaign, which argues that the overhaul "only benefits big businesses."

The devil is in two provisions, which the Wikimedia Foundation summed up last month. They are Article 15, which was formerly called Article 11, and Article 17, formerly called 13.

Article 15 will require certain news websites to purchase licenses for the content they display. As a result, many websites that helped people find and make sense of the news may choose not to offer this type of service, making it harder to find high-quality news items from trusted sources online. Article 17 will introduce a new liability regime across the EU, under which websites can be sued for copyright violations by their users. This will incentivize websites to filter all uploads and keep only "safe" copyrighted content on their sites, eroding essential exceptions and limitations to copyright by making platforms the judges of what is and isn't infringement.

The end result, says the Save Your Internet campaign, is detrimental to users, creators, and competition:

  • Users will have access to less content and will be unable to share their content with others, even when it's legal. Moreover, any complaint mechanisms will be easily bypassed if blocking is done under the pretense of a terms and conditions violation, rather than as a result of a specific copyright claim.
  • If platforms become directly liable for user uploaded content they will arbitrarily remove content based on their terms and conditions. As a result, many creators will see their content get blocked too. And, as less platforms survive the burden of this provision, creators will have less choice on where to share their creations
  • Only platforms with deep pockets will be able to comply with the Article 13 requirements and even if small enterprises get an exemption from its scope, this simply means they are not allowed to scale up and compete with the big U.S. platforms, under the motto 'in Europe, small is beautiful'!

Given such impacts, Catherine Stihler, chief executive of the Open Knowledge Foundation, said the adoption of the rules is "a deeply disappointing result which will have a far-reaching and negative impact on freedom of speech and expression online."

"We now risk the creation of a more closed society at the very time we should be using digital advances to build a more open world where knowledge creates power for the many, not the few," she said.

Still, Stihler said that all hope is not lost.

"The battle is not over," she said. "Next month's European elections are an opportunity to elect a strong cohort of open champions at the European Parliament who will work to build a more open world."

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