On 12 September, the entire European Parliament will vote on a new copyright regulation for the EU that could have serious consequences for the freedom of the internet in Europe.
In July, a majority of members the European Parliament voted against a draft of the regulation that would have significantly restricted online free speech, skewing the balance between people’s rights online and the rights of copyright holders like large record companies and movie studios.
The version voted down in July would have forced social media platforms like YouTube and Facebook to install upload filters to flag any content that might – might – contain copyrighted material and block it from being published online.
The next vote
Now, all 751 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have the opportunity to adopt a copyright regulation that properly balances the rights of copyright holders with the rights of the people, and especially their freedom of speech and privacy on the internet.
MEPs will make a decision with enormous implications for each and every one of us: what kinds of safeguards will exist to protect our right to see and share information on the internet, while avoid monitoring our online activity. Liberties remains concerned that similar suggestions to the one voted down in July will be reconsidered during the debate.
Giant internet companies have been spending considerable efforts to lobby for a regulation that absolves them of legal responsibility for user-generated content and allows them to maximize profits; the music industry, with its own cadre of lobbyists, wants to ensure that it gets a slice of profits generated from content it owns.
And then there are the people, everyday internet users who enjoy having the freedom to share and watch news items and home videos, create memes and play online video games. We at Liberties are focusing on the people and fighting for their freedoms, because they are so often overlooked when the interests of large companies are involved.
What Liberties wants
There is nothing wrong with copyright holders wanting a fair share of profits that are generated from the use of their content. But copyright protection does not need to come at the expense of people’s rights – we can have a single copyright regulation that both protects the rights of copyright holders and safeguards people’s fundamental rights.
To achieve this, Liberties is proposing six safeguards that should be included in the new copyright law. Protecting free speech should be paramount, and one of the six safeguards calls for the elimination of upload filters, as the requirement to install a pre-filtering system violates the freedom of speech.
Liberties is also of the opinion that the adopted copyright regulation needs strong transparency guarantees, which have never existed in European copyright law. Platforms make decisions directly related to our free speech, such as blocking or removing content, without transparency or accountability.
If our content is blocked, we should be given information about why it was blocked and how we can challenge the decision. The EU should provide a free legal mechanism to settle disputes between users, copyright holders and internet platforms.
Liberties is also calling for a new copyright regime to keep pace with technology. As technology changes, so too does the content we consume. We upload home videos only targeting a handful of people, we share pictures instead of sending postcards. The ability to reach billions of people on the internet only exists in principle, but reality is usually far different. (If you know how to do it, please let us know. We spend endless hours working on how best to reach our audience.) The internet itself should not be considered as an infinite public sphere. We should start thinking about a new system where a limited number of viewers considered as private usage.
Members of the European Parliament should also reconsider the system used to remove copyrighted material. Article 13 lacks any safeguards against causeless removal of user generated content. The EU should create an incentive that focuses on free speech besides copyright protection. If copyright holders and platforms would be liable for deleting lawful user-generated content, it would change their attitude and free speech would be more effectively protected.