The European parliament has dealt a crushing blow to Internet freedom. They passed the copyright laws that would mandate Internet censorship and link taxes.
Major copyright corporations have scored a major victory in the war on innovation and the Internet. After months of heavy lobbying, they managed to convince lawmakers to pass copyright reforms that would dramatically alter the Internet as European citizens know it.
The reforms themselves are devastating for free speech. One set of laws are known as the link tax. Those laws mandate companies that curate content to pay a license fee for snippets and the privilege for linking to other pages on the Internet. Linking, of course, is something Internet users take for granted every day. When they want to raise awareness of certain issues, links are typically used to highlight that issue. Other’s, such as news sites, link to content as a reference. For people writing articles, linking is the universal standard to show that their articles are well researched. Now, this very basic principle is under siege by extreme copyright measures that have been passed.
Another chilling aspect is the censorship machine. Also sometimes referred to as the upload filter, these laws mandate that if you are running a website that allows user generated content to be submitted, every submission must be vetted and filtered based on vague copyright standards that often exceeds what is permitted through exceptions of copyright law. As many point out, these laws could potentially kill any new platform that appears on the Internet. The Facebook’s and YouTube’s of the future will more likely die before they are even started thanks to these laws.
European digital rights advocates were quick to condemn this latest move. EDRI called the move a “flip-flop“. From EDRI:
The Parliament’s today vote represents a backwards flip-flop to supporting measures which it had previously dismissed.
Negotiations will start between the Parliament and the EU Council: a proposal that coerces internet companies into monitoring, filtering and blocking our uploads versus one that more explicitly forces internet companies into monitoring, filtering and blocking our uploads. The result will be a cocktail of both poisons, to be put to a final vote just a few short months before the 2019 European Parliament elections.
The aftermath of a law that regulates all internet companies in Europe as if they were Google and Facebook is clear: an internet in Europe where only Google and Facebook can survive. If such policies are approved, the Copyright Directive reform will be an act of outstanding self-harm for both European citizens and European businesses.
EDRi will continue to follow closely with the file’s next steps and advocate for putting Europeans’ rights and freedoms at the forefront of the negotiations with EU’s Council on the Copyright Directive reform. Next step: the final vote on the agreement between the Council and Parliament – expected in January 2019.
As we reported earlier, these laws have been fiercely opposed by innovators and businesses who depend on the Internet being free and open. Wikipedia and YouTube both blasted the proposal as a threat to the Internet. Creative Commons similarly opposed the laws saying that they would limit freedom of expression.
As mentioned by EDRI, this isn’t the first round that these laws have had. Last July, the debate about Internet censorship and link taxes came to a head as the laws were voted on. After widespread backlash over the threat to the Internet itself, lawmakers ended up rejecting the laws. Now, nearly identical laws with little more than cosmetic changes are being passed in this second round.
Of course, all is not lost at this point. Despite this major defeat to free speech and the Internet, there are additional votes that need to take place before these measures become law. In October, different Trilogues will debate this legislation. So, at this stage, there is still time to save the Internet. Unfortunately, it appears that major corporate interests have regained momentum at this stage. As a result, there is still a very real chance that the Internet in Europe could face a very uncertain future unless citizens re-double their efforts and tell lawmakers to put a stop to all of this.