This morning the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament voted on the report on the proposed Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive. The results are in and they are not pretty: MEPs have adopted Article 13 which would force open platforms operating in Europe to install upload filters. They have also adopted the controversial press publishers right (art 11). As a bonus to rightsholders they granted more rights to “sports event organisers” and adopted a provision intended to force image search engines to pay for displaying thumbnail images as search results.
This amounts to a massive power grab by rightsholders who will enjoy much more control over how we use the Internet to communicate, share, create and inform ourselves. It is a big step away from an open Internet towards an Internet that functions as a distribution channel for mainstream culture. It is a huge loss for European cultural diversity and the freedom of expression online.
It is telling that the MEPs in the JURI committee have also voted against all attempts to give users more rights. Proposals to introduce EU wide freedom of panorama and to allow the use of protected works in User Generated Content (both of which would merely bring the law in line with reality) were voted down. The MEPs adopted a number of small improvements for users in the fields of education, access to cultural heritage and with regards to Text and Data Mining but most of these come with significant drawbacks.
The education exception contains a license priority clause that allows rightsholders to turn off the exception and dictate problematic licensing terms to educational users, which creates a dangerous precedent for users’ rights and goes against the CJEU ruling on this issue.
The Text and Data Mining (TDM) exception is limited to scientific research purposes only. The expansion that would open TDM to everyone for every purpose (which is crucial for the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence in the EU) is merely optional and will not apply across the EU as a whole.
Taken as a whole, the JURI committee’s vote shows an utter disregard for the rights of citizens in the digital environment. It is telling that both the Civil Liberties and the Consumer Protection committees have prepared much more balanced reports that have been completely ignored by the members of the Legal Affairs committee. This shows that lawmakers still treat the rights and interests of citizens and creators as spare change in the the fight between big content and big tech.
Today’s round has clearly gone to ‘big content’ in spite of warnings from pretty much anyone other than the rightsholders that this outcome will have disastrous consequences for the open Internet and our freedom of speech. Citizens’ freedom of expression should not be the function of an arrangement between rightsholders and big technology companies. It is a right that needs to be defended on its own merits and it is extremely worrisome that EU lawmakers have effectively decided to give big technology companies – that are based outside of the EU – the responsibility to decide how European citizens can express themselves online.
We will continue to fight for the rights of users and creators and to oppose the censorship machine. The first step will be to convince enough MEPs that a decision to sell out citizens rights to big content and big tech merits a decision by the whole European Parliament:
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