July 5th: Europe’s Independence Day where the aliens win?


July 4th is the US holiday known around the globe as Independence Day, but today, July 5th, could go down in history as Europe’s last day of online independence as the European Parliament votes on insanely ill thought out copyright laws. If the law passes, it could be like an online Independence Day, but one where the aliens win.

You might have heard a bit of buzz recently about a law that might put an end to memes and remixes? Well, while it would be a travesty to lose those two internet gems, these proposals are a lot more sinister and destructive than that. A collection of 169 European academics agree. It has blasted the legislation writing that it could “impede the free flow of information that is of vital importance to democracy.”

Two particular parts of the legislation – articles 11 and 13 – are the most controversial. Article 13 will make websites enforce copyright on all content, even that uploaded by users. Every single thing that is uploaded will have to be checked. Imagine how much fun social media sites will be if that bad boy hits. Another picture of my dinner, anyone? I’d rather share some meaningful third party content, but I’m not allowed.

Since people couldn’t possibly check all the proposed shared content for copyright, it will be up to bots to do. I see two major problems here. 1. Bots are annoyingly wrong, often, and, 2. Smaller sites will go bust because they can’t afford the automated systems needed to implement the law. Their only option will be to put a blanket ban on sharing content meaning, well, they’ll go bust. If GDPR gave small internet businesses a sucker punch, this will be the death blow.

Article 11 will require platforms to pay publishers a fee for linking to their news content. The idea is to drive traffic to the home pages of news sites that have their work linked to huge organizations such as Google and Facebook.

This is a nice, really poorly thought out, idea. Freedom of the press is a vital weapon for a free world, but the press is on its knees because the likes of Facebook and Google are benefitting from their free content whilst mopping up all the advertising money. Something has to be done to filter the ad cash back to the sites that are getting the clicks and getting the shares. But this “link tax” law will not help that cause. It will give broad rights to large publishers and hurt smaller start-ups. It may make it impossible to share a newspaper article on social networks or even find it on a search engine.

What’s even more concerning is that the article doesn’t even clearly define what constitutes a link. It would be frighteningly easy for this to be manipulated by governments to curb freedom of speech.

Fewer than 10 votes in Parliament could swing today’s vote so campaigning to your MEP could be decisive. To make a difference, contact your MEP via this site created by Wikipedia in protest to the legislation, or visit this site to add your name to the campaign.