European lawmakers were set to vote on changes on the 5th July that will dramatically increase Internet regulation. Perhaps the biggest proposed change is the introduction of Article 13 which is intended to improve copyright protection.
Under the terms of Article 13, any Internet platform that hosts “large amounts” of user-uploaded content is expected to monitor every submission. This means identifying and removing any content that infringes copyright.
Blocking copyright infringement is good…
Content creators – like musicians and filmmakers – rely on their work to provide an income. When people reuse that content, the original creator loses out. Some people would say that it is no different to stealing food from your local supermarket.
Obviously protecting copyright is incredibly important to these people. And it is for their protection that Article 13 has been created.
…but auto-blocking isn’t
According to the latest statistics, 60 hours of videos are uploaded to YouTube every minute. It would be physically impossible to employ people to check each film for copyright infringements (unlicensed clips or background music). Instead, content platform owners like Facebook, Flickr and YouTube will need to develop an automated system to analyse content as it is uploaded.
The problem is that automated systems tend to be pretty poor. YouTube has tried content scanning in the past – Content ID – which was notorious for creating false positives, blocking perfectly legitimate movies in the process.
A more sinister future?
Some Internet experts are concerned about the longer term implications of Article 13, suggesting that the new regulations could be misused. They believe that the law creates a new surveillance framework that could be easily subverted by totalitarian governments to curb free speech.
Internet blackouts and bans on sites that are perceived as anti-government are already a regular occurrence in Turkey, Iran and China. These experiences suggest that the fear of government interference is not entirely unwarranted.
Linking to sites could be expensive
Have you ever shared a link to a news article on your Facebook page? Another update to the regulation – Article 11 – defines a new tax on platforms for linking to news articles. In future, Facebook could be charged because you share a link to a BBC News story.
With millions of pages being shared every day, Facebook will face a huge bill for the activities of their users. In order to protect their profits, Facebook may ban links to news websites, or even charge users for the service.
The proposed changes have already passed scrutiny and will be approved (or denied) by MEPs today. Article 13 (and other amendments) will then be written into law and applied by all member states in due course. Importantly firms based outside the European Union will be expected to adhere to the new regulations.
Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to plan for the new regulation because the European Union has not specified exactly how the link tax or copyright filter will work. Should Articles 11 and 13 become law, the way you use the web may change forever.