New EU Internet Law Could Put Free Speech in Deep Freeze

The European Union this week gave a thumbs-up to a controversial set of internet regulations that critics of the law, known as the EU Copyright Directive, say could “break the internet,” as the site put it, by placing heavy-handed restrictions on free expression online in the name of shielding content creators from copyright violations.

But proponents of the new law—which though passed 438-226 by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday must clear several significant hurdles before it can be enforced—say that it will finally allow content creators such as musicians, artists and filmmakers to receive fair compensation for use of the work online, according to the BBC.

Those proponents include many musicians and other creative artists, including no less a figure than former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney. But at least one musician—hip hop artist Wyclef Jean—spoke against the proposed new laws to the EU Parliament, saying that the Copyright Directive regulations would “block and hinder” online expression, and that the EU should be looking to "embrace and improve the internet” instead, the BBC reported.

As the pop culture and technology site Boing Boing noted, even German EU Parliament member Axel Voss, who is considered the “father” of the new legislation, seemed unaware of all of the provisions that it contained. One section of the law, 12a, prohibits sports fans from taking pictures at sporting events—even selfies—a provision for which many large professional sports organizations have long clamored.

“I didn’t know that this was in the proposal so far, so of course I have to deal with it now,” Voss said after the bill passed.

But the most inflammatory sections of the bill are known as Article 11 and Article 13, according to a CNBC report

Article 11 would impose a “link tax” on internet sites that share stories from third-party publishers. Though in the current version of the bill, merely hyperlinking a story would not be subject to the additional charges. But large social media and search aggregation sites such as Facebook and Google would be forced to pay publishers each time their stories are shared on the platforms.

One of the problems with Article 11, according to an analysis by The Verge, is that when similar legislation has been imposed on a national level, such as in Spain which tried taxing online “snippets” of publishers’ articles in 2014, Google simply shut down its Google News service in that country. Germany also tried a “link tax” law in 2013, but in that case, Google blocked links to any sites that did not agree to let their content be linked for free.

Article 13 is even more Orwellian, requiring “upload filters” for online content. That means, according to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, that sites such as YouTube and any site that accepts user uploads must apply algorithms or “bots” that automatically scan all uploaded video and other content for supposed “copyright violations.”

But such algorithms are subject to frequent errors, and could also be used as tools of censorship and privacy infringement, EFF said.

“Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users,” the online rights advocacy group wrote in a statement.

“We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks,” EFF stated.

Photo by M0tty / Wikimedia Commons