Digital Rights Organizations Push for User Rights in Article 17

Europe is holding hearings about the implementation of Article 17 (censorship machines). Digital rights organizations are pushing for rights.

In 2018 to early 2019, Europe was wrapped up in the massive civil rights fight to stop Article 11 and Article 13. Respectively, they were known as the link tax and censorship machines. Article 13 in particular was slammed by the United Nations as a major threat to free speech. Despite multinational corporations making it a selling point, the laws won’t compensate creators. Unfortunately, despite massive blackout protests and more than 5 million signatures on a petition, European lawmakers ultimately chose to ignore the will of the people and pass the laws after multinational corporations sent threatening messages to MEPs.

Ever since, Europeans have been dealing with the fallout of having anti-free speech laws in the books. As part of a campaign of confusion, Article 13 was renamed to Article 17 with no real substantive changes.

Now, we are learning that meetings are being held to implement the laws. The deadline for countries to pass their own version of the laws is June 7, 2021. So, the question is, how do countries implement the laws with proper safeguards? That’s what these meetings are about. Digital rights organizations and people who represent the people are finally having a seat at the table in the process. This, of course, is a stark contrast from before where debates about passing the law were largely held behind closed doors and away from the public. Digital rights organizations are pushing for protections for users and sites. This is because the laws demand that services and sites should be held liable for user activity on the copyright front. So, ultimately, these organizations are fighting existential threats. From the EFF:

The fifth meeting was held today in Brussels. The good news is EFF and other digital rights organizations have a seat at the table, alongside rightsholders from the music and film industries and representatives of big tech companies like Google and Facebook. The bad news is that the commission’s proposed guidelines probably won’t keep users’ rights to free speech and freedom of expression from being trampled as internet service providers, fearful of liability, race to over-block content.

That’s why EFF and more than 40 user advocate and digital rights groups sent an open letter to the EC asking the commissioners to ensure that implementation guidelines focus on user rights, specifically free speech, and limit the use of automated filtering, which is notoriously inaccurate. The guidelines must ensure that protecting legitimate, fair uses of copyrighted material for research, criticism, review, or parody takes precedence over content blocking measures Internet service providers employ to comply with Article 17, the letter says. What’s more, the guidelines must make clear that automated filtering technologies can only be used if content-sharing providers can show that users aren’t being negatively affected.

Further, we asked the commission to share the draft guidelines with rights organizations and the public, and allow both to comment on and suggest improvements to ensure that they comply with European Union civil and human rights requirements. As we told the EC in the letter, “This request is based on the requirement of transparency, which is a core principle of the rule of law.” EFF and its partners want to “ensure that the guidelines are in line with the right to freedom of expression and information and also data protection guaranteed by the Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

The EC is scheduled to hold the next stakeholder meeting in February in preparation for drafting guidelines. We will keep the pressure on to protect users from censorship and content blocking brought on by this incredibly dangerous directive.

Ultimately, at this stage, the push is less to do with trying to reverse a major political wrong. That ship has long since sailed. The real push is to try and mitigate the damage to innovation, creation, and free speech at this point. Even then, this is an extremely tall order. The bombs are already dropping and users are simply trying to seek the safest shelter possible at this point. A grim, but accurate perspective on the free speech situation in Europe at this point.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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