Members of the European Parliament voted Wednesday to approve a sweeping overhaul of the EU’s copyright laws that includes two controversial articles that threaten to hand more power to the richest tech companies and generally break the internet.
Overall, MEPs voted in favor of the EU Copyright Directive with a strong majority of 438 to 226. But the process isn’t over. There are still more parliamentary procedures to go through, and individual countries will eventually have to decide how they intend to implement the rules. That’s part of the reason that it’s so difficult to raise public awareness on this issue.
Momentum to oppose the legislation built up earlier this summer, culminating with Parliament deciding to open it up for amendments in July. Many people may have thought the worst was over. It wasn’t—but make no mistake, today’s vote in favor of the directive was extremely consequential.
The biggest issue with this legislation has been Articles 11 and 13. These two provisions have come to be known as the “link tax” and “upload filter” requirements, respectively.
In brief, the link tax is intended to take power back from giant platforms like Google and Facebook by requiring them to pay news outlets for the privilege of linking or quoting articles. But critics say this will mostly harm smaller websites that can’t afford to pay the tax, and the tech giants will easily pay up or just decide not link to news. The latter outcome has already happened when this was tried in Spain. On top of inhibiting the spread of news, the link tax could also make it all but impossible for Wikipedia and other non-profit educational sources to do their work because of their reliance on links, quotes, and citation.
The upload filter section of the legislation demands that all platforms aside from “small/micro enterprises” use a content ID system of some sort to prevent any copyrighted works from being uploaded. Sites will face all copyright liabilities in the event that something makes it past the filter. Because even the best filtering systems, like YouTube’s, are still horrible, critics say that the inevitable outcome is that over-filtering will be the default mode of operation. Remixing, meme-making, sharing of works in the public domain, and other fair use practices would likely all fall victim to platforms that would rather play it safe, just say no to flagged content, and avoid legal battles. Copyright trolls will likely be able to fraudulently claim ownership of intellectual property with little recourse for their victims.
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Joe McNamee, executive director of digital rights association EDRi, recently told The Verge, “The system is so complicated that last Friday the [European Parliament] legal affairs committee tweeted an incorrect assessment of what’s happening. If they don’t understand the rules, what hope the rest of us?” As we come closer to living parallel lives online and IRL, such sweeping legislation is dangerous to play with.
In a statement sent to Gizmodo, Member of European Parliament Julia Reda said, “Unfortunately, all the concerns by academics, experts and internet users that led to the text being rejected last July still stand.” She said that the EU is relying on “wishful thinking” rather than addressing the clear problems in the directive. Her overall assessment of the vote was blunt: “Today’s decision is a severe blow to the free and open internet. By endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.”
Link to the rest at Gizmodo and thanks to Kat, who points out that this could impact TPV (although it might be a “small/micro enterprise”), for the tip.
Although he claims no deep knowledge of the language of the legislation and its potential impact on TPV or elsewhere, PG says one possibility springs (or limps) to mind would be that it could create a sort of digital Dark Age for websites originating in the EU.
Who is going to quote or take the risk of linking to a European website that may trigger a “link tax” or otherwise expose the site owners to jurisdiction under a complex EU legal regime?
It is not difficult for PG to imagine a new WordPress plugin that automatically screens the IP addresses of linked articles or online visitors to a blog and blocks access to the linked website in general or for visitors with a European IP address. This type of digital censorship system will almost certainly be over-inclusive if the penalties involve exposing a US, Brazilian or Japanese blog to some sort of EU regulatory framework.
If the impact of such an initiative creates one or more digital “no-go” zones, the individuals and organizations in those zones could suffer a much greater harm than any offsetting benefit to the relatively small number of IP rights holders in any nation.
But, as usual, PG could be wrong. As mentioned, he only knows what he reads online about a wide variety of subjects these days.
While he believes himself to be a staunch advocate for the rights of authors and other creators to reasonable legal protections for their works, PG thinks a couple of items about the potential harms of rent-seeking are relevant.
In public choice theory and in economics, rent-seeking involves seeking to increase one’s share of existing wealth without creating new wealth. Rent-seeking results in reduced economic efficiency through poor allocation of resources, reduced actual wealth-creation, lost government revenue, increased income inequality, and (potentially) national decline.
Attempts at capture of regulatory agencies to gain a coercive monopoly can result in advantages for the rent seeker in a market while imposing disadvantages on (incorrupt) competitors. This constitutes one of many possible forms of rent-seeking behavior.
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Rent-seeking is an attempt to obtain economic rent (i.e., the portion of income paid to a factor of production in excess of what is needed to keep it employed in its current use) by manipulating the social or political environment in which economic activities occur, rather than by creating new wealth. Rent-seeking implies extraction of uncompensated value from others without making any contribution to productivity. The classic example of rent-seeking, according to Robert Shiller, is that of a feudal lord who installs a chain across a river that flows through his land and then hires a collector to charge passing boats a fee (or rent of the section of the river for a few minutes) to lower the chain. There is nothing productive about the chain or the collector. The lord has made no improvements to the river and is not adding value in any way, directly or indirectly, except for himself. All he is doing is finding a way to make money from something that used to be free.
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Rent-seeking is distinguished in theory from profit-seeking, in which entities seek to extract value by engaging in mutually beneficial transactions. Profit-seeking in this sense is the creation of wealth, while rent-seeking is “profiteering” by using social institutions, such as the power of the state, to redistribute wealth among different groups without creating new wealth.
And some relevant quotes:
I readily acknowledge that it may be difficult to know where to draw the line between ‘corruption’ and ‘rent-seeking behaviour’…. The latter term is generally used to refer to the process by which interest groups adopt (lawful) means to secure competitive advantages from the political process and is a phenomenon widely recognised as influencing law and legal institutions in industrialised societies and is the subject of a huge literature . . . . Rent-seeking may, indeed, impose costs to the economy as high, if not higher, than those arising from corruption (narrowly defined).
~ Anthony Ogus
Time, talent, money, knowledge, and resources that could be used to protect people and cure deadly diseases are instead being wasted, siphoned off by rent-seeking because the government needs to…protect us.
~ Lisa Casanova
As soon as the state takes upon itself the task of planning the whole economic life, the problem of the due station of the different individuals and groups must indeed inevitably become the central political problem. As the coercive power of the state will alone decide who is to have what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power. There will be no economic or social questions that would not be political questions in the sense that their solution will depend exclusively on who wields the coercive power, on whose are the views that will prevail on all occasions.
~ Friedrich August Hayek