With all the focus on the implementation of the European Union’s new General Data Protection Regulation or GDPR, very few people are aware of a potentially far bigger and more fundamental change to how EU citizens interact with the world wide web. While the GDPR can be regarded as a relatively benign codification of existing data protection laws in Europe, with the addition of enforcement measures, the suggested Copyright Directive, and in particular Article 13, will drastically restrict the freedoms of internet users and content makers across the Continent. As Wired points out:
Although it’s primarily intended to prevent the online streaming of pirated music and video, the scope of Article 13 covers all and any copyrightable material, including images, audio, video, compiled software, code and the written word.
That means almost any activity which makes reference or use of third-party content on the internet, including on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, video-hosting companies like YouTube or Vimeo, blogging platforms like WordPress or Medium, or on media sites like An Sionnach Fionn, The Irish Times or Le Monde, would be bound by the new rules. These would legally require individuals and companies to have automated programs in place to scan all published items or articles for copyrighted material, ignoring fair use clauses, and possibly restricting the incorporation of in-text hyperlinks with pop-up previews and so on.
Naturally, the implementation of sophisticated software measures like these would be far beyond the means of many smaller publishers, leaving the field to a handful of larger, big-budgeted media corporations. Independent journalism and blogging would likely struggle, as would many artists and content-makers, not to mention online criticism and commentary more generally. The readily accessible world wide web as we know it today, in all its diversity, would change dramatically as many users and consumers would seek closed systems or “dark web” enclaves in order to freely express themselves.
The Irish MEP Luke “Ming” Flanagan makes a good case for fighting Article 13 below.