One of the oddities of the vote a few weeks back in the EU Parliament's JURI Committee concerning the proposed EU Copyright Directive, was that there was no published text of what they were voting on. There were snippets and earlier proposals released, but the full actual text was only just released, and it's not in the most readable of formats. However, what is now clear is that the JURI Committee not only failed in its attempts to "fix" the many, many, many problems people have been raising about the Directive, but it actually makes many of the problems worse -- including saying that online platforms become legally responsible for any copyright infringement on their platforms. This new text effectively says that the internet should only be a broadcast medium, and no longer allow for open user platforms.
MEP Julia Reda has an excellent analysis of what's problematic about the released text, but I want to focus in on a few of the more bizarre changes in particular. First, on the whole Article 11 "link tax" bit, JURI apparently thought they could quiet down the protests by adding a line that says:
2a. The rights referred to in paragraph 1 shall not extend to acts of hyperlinking.
So now supporters of Article 11 will point to this new line and say "see?!? it's not about a link tax." Which would be great... if the rest of the text actually lived up to that. Unfortunately, basically every bit of the rest of Article 11 undermines that. Because it still creates a license requirement on a snippet of any length, and most URLs these days include a "snippet" of the headline of an article within the URL itself. Unless everyone starts stripping the text that includes such snippets -- making URLs significantly less useful -- those links will still run afoul of this licensing/tax requirement. Thus, them declaring that a hyperlink is not covered is meaningless if the rest of the directive can only be read in a manner that would include nearly all links.
Once again, it appears this amendment was written by someone who has no functional understanding of how the internet works, and thus does not realize how badly drafted this proposal is. It's the kind of thing a non-technically-inclined lawyer would write in response to people calling this a "link tax." "Oh," they would say, "well, let's just say it doesn't apply to links," even if any reading of the directive would mean it absolutely must apply to most links -- especially any that use any sort of descriptive text. On top of that if you share a link on a platform like Twitter or Facebook that automatically sucks in some snippet text, you're now violating the law as well.
Another change made by JURI is much, much, much more concerning. This is on Article 13, the part about mandatory upload filters. For unclear and unknown reasons, JURI decided to expand Article 13 to make it even more ridiculous. First, it redefines an "online content sharing services" to completely wipe out any intermediary liability protections for such platforms. The most standard form of protecting platforms from liability is to note (correctly!) that a platform is just a tool and is not the publisher or speaker of works posted/uploaded by third-party users. That's sensible. You can then (as the EU already does) put certain restrictions on those protections, such as requiring a form of a notice-and-takedown regime. But, the fundamental, common sense, idea is that a platform is the tool, and not the actual "speaker" of the third party content.
But JURI wiped that out. Instead, it explicitly states that any content shown via online platforms are the responsibility of those platforms by saying that such platforms "perform an act of communication to the public" in showing the content uploaded by users. This is a massive change and basically wipes out all intermediary liability protections for platforms:
Online content sharing service providers perform an act of communication to the public and therefore are responsible for their content. As a consequence, they should conclude fair and appropriate licensing agreements with rightholders. Therefore they cannot benefit from the liability exemption provided...
That's... bad. It's much, much worse than the original text from the commission, which made it clear that intermediary liability protections in the E-Commerce Directive still applied to such platforms. Here they explicitly remove that exception and say that platforms cannot benefit from such protections. As Reda points out, under this reading of the law almost any user-generated site on the internet will be in violation, and potentially at significantly greater legal liability than the various "pirate" sites people have complained about in the past:
By defining that platforms – and not their users – are the ones “communicating” uploaded works “to the public”, they become as liable for the actions of their users as if they had committed them themselves. Let’s imagine a company that makes an app for people to share videos of their cats. If even one user among millions uses the CatVideoWorld3000 app to record a Hollywood movie off a theater screen rather than their kitty, that’d be legally as bad as if the business’ employees had committed the copyright infringement themselves intentionally to profit off of it. The Pirate Bay, MegaUpload and Napster were all much more innocent than any site with an upload form will now be in the eyes of the law.
And that's not all that JURI did. It also outlawed image search with an amendment. No joke.
Use of protected content by information society services providing automated image referencing
Member States shall ensure that information society service providers that automatically reproduce or refer to significant amounts of copyright-protected visual works and make them available to the public for the purpose of indexing and referencing conclude fair and balanced licensing agreements with any requesting rightholders in order to ensure their fair remuneration. Such remuneration may be managed by the collective management organisation of the rightholders concerned.
This was not discussed previously and not recommended by the EU Commission. But, what the hell, while they're outlawing Google News, why not outlaw Google Images in the same shot.
There's a lot more in the text, but it's really, really bad. Effectively, the document envisions a world in which everything on the internet is "licensed" and any platform will be legally liable for any content on its platform. What you get in that world is not the internet -- the greatest communications medium ever made. What you get is... TV. A limited broadcast medium only for those who are pre-checked by gatekeepers.
It is incredibly important that the EU not move forward with this Directive. Contact the EU Parliament now and tell them to #SaveYourInternet before they vote on this proposal this Thursday.
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Latest Text Of EU Copyright Directive Shows It's Even Worse Than Expected