European Copyright Law Proposal Threatens Mods and More

A committee of members of European Parliament has voted to approve amendments to European copyright law that could spell disaster for the internet in a number of ways. If it gets voted in by the wider European Parliament, it threatens to eradicate mods, memes, and will even affect things as commonplace as sourced news and posting photos of you wearing a t-shirt of your favourite game.

First net neutrality in the US, now this. There are two highly-controversial articles in a piece of legislation called the Copyright Directive, approved by the EU’s Legal Affairs Committee. Article 11 would require anyone using snippets of online journalistic content to pay their sources via a license, which would make reporting on news broken by other sites impossibly expensive for mid-tier publications like us. There’s also Article 13, which makes platforms responsible for monitoring potentially copyright-infringing content themselves, even that which is published by users.

The problems with Article 11 are pretty clear on the surface, but Article 13 is potentially very dangerous. If all sites and services are required to strictly monitor for copyright infringement, then most will likely turn to unreliable algorithms that automatically flag copyrighted content. With how much of a problem this has been on sites like YouTube, and how stricter it looks to be than Google’s current systems for the video platform, this could ruin instances of fair use and make it hazardous to share and produce memes, make mods for games, and even something as innocuous as posting a photo on Twitter or Facebook of yourself wearing a t-shirt with copyrighted material on it.

This all comes after last week, when 70 leading figures in tech including Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee, signed a letter opposing Article 13, which called the proposal “an imminent threat to the future” of the internet. Talking to BoingBoing, activist Cory Doctorow criticised what he called a “foolish, terrible idea … No filter exists that can even approximate this. And the closest equivalents are mostly run by American companies, meaning that US big tech is going to get to spy on everything Europeans post and decide what gets censored and what doesn’t.”

Voting on the European copyright law legislation in the wider EU Parliament will happen in July. Until then, every advocate, tech leader, and activist is encouraging people living in Europe to contact their local MEPs and voice their concerns about the legislation. After today’s committee vote, US not-for-profit organisation Creative Commons called it “a dark day for the open web.”