What is Article 13?
The European Union has passed a wide-reaching update to copyright laws, the first since 2001. Most of the changes in the EU Copyright Directive are uncontroversial, setting out how copyright contracts are managed and licensed, but Article 13 could have a huge impact on how material is shared online. Put simply, it makes websites responsible for ensuring that content uploaded to their platforms does not breach copyright.
OK but what does that mean?
The EU says the new directive is about making “copyright rules fit for the digital era”. To comply with Article 13, platforms such as YouTube and Soundcloud will need to ensure that any copyrighted material on their sites is licenced, guaranteeing the original artist receives payment for its use.
Certain services are exempted, including non-profit encyclopaedias like Wikipedia, software development platforms like Github, and cloud storage services.
Why do we need it?
Rightsholders say that the new rules will put an end to the days of pirating music and video online, and ensure artists receive a fair payment for their work. Supporters of the directive include musicians Debbie Harry and Paul McCartney.
The rules are also intended to challenge the power of tech giants like Google and YouTube, forcing them to pay for content they aggregate. However, critics say the opposite is true, with smaller websites most adversely affected by the directive.
How does it affect the way I use the internet? Should I be worried?
It’s platform owners rather than internet users who bear the brunt of these new rules, but they may spell the end of some of your favourite content sharing websites. If you own a website or a forum in which people can post text, images or video clips, you’ll be responsible for ensuring no unlicenced material appears. For many, it will be easier to pull the plug.
Why is it controversial?
How long have you got? Users say the new rules risk killing off vibrant internet culture, such as memes, which often repurpose unlicensed material. And the legal status of streamers, who post videos of themselves playing video games online, is in question.
Website owners are not required to install content monitoring software to detect copyright material, but practically it will be impossible to guarantee a site is not infringing the rules without this software.
“It’s very hard to make these tools identifying content, because they can’t identify context, and so they make decisions that are likely to be bad,” says Jim Killock at the Open Rights Group, a UK digital rights campaign group. Users would risk having their content removed by over-zealous bots.
While Article 13 also requires site owners to implement a complaints process to deal with disputed decisions, Killock says this is unlikely to fix the problem. “Our experience pretty much everywhere is people generally don’t complain. They worry about the effects on their reputation, worry about the legal ramifications, so these tools would have a chilling effect.” Rather than risk further sanctions, user may simply stop making content for online publication.
Although websites less than three years old, or with less than €10m annual turnover are exempt, they will still need to plan for these rules for when those caveats no longer apply.
Still, something must be done about piracy, right?
That depends on who you ask. Music and video producers have lobbied hard to see the new changes passed. Others question whether the problem of copyright infringement is serious enough to require such sweeping legislation. For certain, tech companies going into business in Europe will have to negotiate an extra layer of regulation which didn’t exist before. Critics say many of them will simply opt to set up in the US instead.
What happens next?
To become law, EU member states must pass legislation that adheres to the rules set out in the directive, so it’s likely to be some time before the new restrictions take effect. There will likely be a series of campaigns against the changes as well as legal challenges in national and EU courts.
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