On October 10, 2017, the European Parliament will vote on a new copyright law that could see content filtering on websites in Europe which are deemed to violate copyright laws.
These laws would apply to all websites displayed to users in Europe. The law would naturally cover websites such as torrent sites that share links to download copyright protected material, but also other websites may also be censored. Websites such as Reddit, E-bay, Wikipedia and GitHub could all easily fall foul of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market if users of the sites upload copyright protected material.
If the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is passed in its current form, all website owners would have to monitor content uploaded by site users to ensure copyright laws are not violated. Online services providers would be required by law to implement content filters to prevent pirated material from being displayed on their websites. Detection mechanisms such as the fingerprinting technology used by YouTube would need to be implemented. Platform operators would be liable for any copyrighted material uploaded to their sites.
Content filtering on websites in Europe could not be performed manually – the work involved in vetting all content would make that impractical. Therefore, content filters would need to be automatic, and if all content must be checked to determine if it is acceptable, all uploads would need to be scanned.
An alternative has been proposed to the upload filter – the “link tax” or ancillary copyright that was introduced in Spain and Germany. The link tax required sites that publish news snippets from other sites to be charged for doing so, although that measure did not work in practice so it is unlikely to be applied across all member states.
If Internet filters are applied, it would be difficult to differentiate between allowable use of copyrighted material and illegal use. It therefore has potential to affect parody websites, the use of quotes, and it could spell the end of Internet memes, at least in Europe. Also, if the new Directive is agreed in its current form, users would have no protection from unfair deletion of website content.
Raegan MacDonald, senior EU policy Manager at Mozilla said, “The proposal would make filtering and blocking of online content the norm, effectively undermining innovation, competition and freedom of expression.” He also labelled some of the elements of the new directive as “dysfunctional and borderline absurd.” Some see the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market as Internet censorship akin to that used by China.
It has been argued that the use of this technology to apply content filtering on websites in Europe would violate the privacy of Internet users, as such a system would require all communications on websites to be monitored. That would potentially violate European privacy laws. A letter has been sent by six EU member states questioning the legality of the new Directive asking whether the directive is legal and whether “the proposed measures justified and proportionate.”
As it stands, if the Directive is passed, it will prove costly for businesses and as EDRi points out, the new law has potential to “undermine access to copyright-free public domain works that are for now freely available for everyone.”