April 17, 2019
In a vote of 348 to 274, nineteen out of the European Union’s 28 member countries voted in favor of reformed laws to protect content creators. Critics of the reform — including large tech companies — argue that the rules will reduce free speech online, with Articles 11 and 13 of particular concern. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker declared that the new copyright rules are “fit for the digital age.” In the lead-up to the vote, nativist groups in many countries worked to defeat the new rules.
VentureBeat reports that Article 11, the so-called link tax, “requires websites to pay publishers a fee if they display excerpts of copyrighted content” or even a link to it; and Article 13, the so-called upload filter, “makes digital platforms legally liable for any copyright infringements on their platform.”
The argument against them is that “smaller competitors won’t be able to afford the compliance costs, and larger platforms will likely take an overly cautious approach that limits the ability to post and share content.” Advocates believe that Facebook and Google have formed “an online advertising duopoly” that doesn’t sufficiently compensate artists.
The Wall Street Journal reports that, “nativist and anti-European Union parties have joined left-wing groups, privacy campaigners and open-Internet activists” in opposing the new, stricter copyright laws. In Italy, for example, the nativist-dominated League rules a coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement to campaign against the copyright law. In Poland, the leading nationalist ruling party’s chair Jaroslaw Kaczynski said, “the bill is a first step in censoring the Internet, a stance shared by Germany’s nationalist Alternative for Germany, or AfD, and pro-Brexit forces in Britain, such as the UK Independence Party, or UKIP.”
These populist parties have been “particularly adept at using social media for campaigning,” ginning up the belief that the new rules would “filter out with an algorithm uploaded posts and videos that draw on popular culture, including political memes.” Their opponents, who support the rules, say these groups “fear they will be deprived of platforms for post-factual, conspiracy-laden campaigning.”
“The populist and nationalist movements are using social media very intensely for disinformation campaigns … while arguing they want to preserve freedom,” said German EU legislator Axel Voss, “who is shepherding the new bill and says he has received a barrage of online abuse.” Some of the rhetoric is extreme; Kaczynski compared opposition to the new copyright rules to “the underground opposition to his country’s Communist dictatorship in the 1980s.”
Their arguments place the nativist groups in odd proximity to left-wing opponents of the rules as well as the major tech companies such as Google and Facebook. Polish opposition legislator Katarzyna Lubnauer accused Kaczynski and the government of hijacking “a movement rooted in legitimate concerns.” Google has stated that the new copyright rules will “hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies … [but] a Facebook spokeswoman wouldn’t comment directly on whether the company supported the legislation.”