As Europe’s latest copyright proposal heads to a critical vote on June 20-21, more than 70 Internet and computing luminaries have spoken out against a dangerous provision, Article 13, that would require Internet platforms to automatically filter uploaded content. The group, which includes Internet pioneer Vint Cerf, the inventor of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee, Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales, co-founder of the Mozilla Project Mitchell Baker, Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle, cryptography expert Bruce Schneier, and net neutrality expert Tim Wu, wrote in a joint letter that was released today:
By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet, from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.
The prospects for the elimination of Article 13 have continued to worsen. Until late last month, there was the hope that that Member States (represented by the Council of the European Union) would find a compromise. Instead, their final negotiating mandate doubled down on it.
The last hope for defeating the proposal now lies with the European Parliament. On June 20-21 the Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee will vote on the proposal. If it votes against upload filtering, the fight can continue in the Parliament’s subsequent negotiations with the Council and the European Commission. If not, then automatic filtering of all uploaded content may become a mandatory requirement for all user content platforms that serve European users. Although this will pose little impediment to the largest platforms such as YouTube, which already uses its Content ID system to filter content, the law will create an expensive barrier to entry for smaller platforms and startups, which may choose to establish or move their operations overseas in order to avoid the European law.
For those platforms that do establish upload filtering, users will find that their contributions—including video, audio, text, and even source code—will be monitored and potentially blocked if the automated system detects what it believes to be a copyright infringement. Inevitably, mistakes will happen. There is no way for an automated system to reliably determine when the use of a copyright work falls within a copyright limitation or exception under European law, such as quotation or parody.
Moreover, because these exceptions are not consistent across Europe, and because there is no broad fair use right as in the United States, many harmless uses of copyright works in memes, mashups, and remixes probably are technically infringing even if no reasonable copyright owner would object. If an automated system monitors and filters out these technical infringements, then the permissible scope of freedom of expression in Europe will be radically curtailed, even without the need for any substantive changes in copyright law.
The upload filtering proposal stems from a misunderstanding about the purpose of copyright. Copyright isn’t designed to compensate creators for each and every use of their works. It is meant to incentivize creators as part of an effort to promote the public interest in innovation and expression. But that public interest isn’t served unless there are limitations on copyright that allow new generations to build and comment on the previous contributions. Those limitations are both legal, like fair dealing, and practical, like the zone of tolerance for harmless uses. Automated upload filtering will undermine both.
The authors of today’s letter write:
We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.
What began as a bad idea offered up to copyright lobbyists as a solution to an imaginary “value gap” has now become an outright crisis for future of the Internet as we know it. Indeed, if those who created and sustain the operation of the Internet recognize the scale of this threat, we should all be sitting up and taking notice.
If you live in Europe or have European friends or family, now could be your last opportunity to avert the upload filter. Please take action by clicking the button below, which will take you to a campaign website where you can phone, email, or Tweet at your representatives, urging them to stop this threat to the global Internet before it’s too late.