EU curse turns open internet into dark web, but there could be a cure

It was a commendable effort but ultimately the #SaveYourInternet campaign fell on deaf ears as the European Parliament stamped its final seal of approval this week on laws which will stifle innovation while favoring the monopolistic nature of the old guard. Above all else, green lighting Article 13 is yet another attack by European policy makers on US technology giants – a trend which must stop now if global collaborative efforts in the internet age are to thrive.

While swathes of internet users rallied together in protests driven by YouTube, Amazon and more, a peculiar division has formed during protests between content creators, musicians and other artists, whom the sweeping changes are intrinsically intended to support. One side see the copyright reform as a major win for rights holders who will now supposedly be “fairly” paid, while the other side oppose the decision due to its clear ramifications for harming budding content creators and ultimately restricting the freedom to create on the open internet.

The situation quickly became a war of media conglomerates and established artists hungry for every last penny versus smaller artists and the loyal user bases of platforms like YouTube, Dailymotion, Twitch, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram and more, who have been accustomed to a certain way of browsing.

Think about it. All the video sharing sites and social media platforms operating in Europe, despite being backed by multi-billion technology behemoths, will have to implement incredibly advanced filter systems at unprecedented scale across the continent. These filters, replacing existing notice-and-takedown measures used by the likes of YouTube in copyright infringement cases, will come at a cost. And who will have to pick up the slack for these expensive new filters? It will trickle down the stack to those at the bottom of the pit who can least afford it – all the while allowing media conglomerates to sweep up a larger share of profits. In addition, it means content sharing platforms will become liable for any copyright infringement from the moment a video is uploaded.

The simplest way to assess the situation is that less freedom of speech will mean less new content, in turn meaning fewer opportunities for aspiring content creators and therefore also for a variety of vendors in the video technology ecosystem. Yet it could be feasible that the constricting of copyright legislation on major platforms could open doors for new ways of sharing content online – potentially through the rise of new OTT video services. That may be difficult to fathom right now but once the internet ecosystem has stopped grieving, we have faith that it will find innovative ways to heal its wounds.

It would make fascinating reading should platform owners ever publicize exactly how much the controversial laws are expected to cost over time, in particular the price of switching out a notice-and-takedown system for advanced filter technologies.

Little has been spoken about the intricacies of how these filters will work but we can expect AI to feature prominently followed naturally by controversy and the EU intervening as often as possible to fine the hell out of US technology giants at the slightest slip up. We’ll keep an eye out in hope that some number crunchers come out with projections on the financial ramifications for the industry in the coming months.

YouTube will arguably feel the effects of the decision more than any. We know YouTube’s Content ID technology currently claims to identify and remove 99.5% of copyright infringements but only after a video is uploaded, which is just not good enough in the eyes of Europe’s top officials. This has given YouTube the dilemma of either facing unmitigated liability or to initiate a massive content cull.

Both options sound expensive for the Google company, so no wonder it has emerged as the most vociferous opposer. YouTube pulled out all the stops to coerce a rewrite of Article 13, launching the website back in November, featuring a video run down of FAQs along with testimonials from YouTube stars and other internet personalities, notably Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the worldwide web’s founding father.

In short, Article 13 applies to blocking copyrighted content, while Article 11, which was also approved this week, means a fee must be paid by platform owners and search engines to the original publisher for news content appearing on their platforms. Naturally, Article 13, which is part of the EU Copyright Directive, has come up against fervent opposition, hence the three-year delay, and it now falls into the hands of member states to approve the decision, which will then get to work initiating the changes over a two-year period. It comes after the vote by MEPs this week swung 348 in favor and 275 against.

It’s important to remember that cloud storage services are immune from the infamous Article 13, along with certain flavors of content such as parody (i.e. memes and GIFs (video clips using the graphic interchange format)).

Speaking of infamy, we tend to avoid the B-word like the plague here at Faultline Online Reporter, but just in case our US readers were wondering, as it stands the rules will still apply to the UK in the wake of Brexit.

Protests will continue in vain over the next two years. Already Wikipedia has seen red by blacking out a number of EU websites, while the official YouTube Creators channel issued a somewhat sedated statement saying, “The final version of the EU copyright Directive is an improvement, but we remain concerned. Article 13 could still have unintended consequences that may harm Europe’s creative and digital economy. We urge EU member states to keep these concerns in mind as they move to implement new rules.”

If public reaction is anything to go by, from here on out the public internet will be referred to as the Dark Web, while the real Dark Web becomes the Darker Web or Super Dark Web. One thing is certain, now is a very good time to be in the VPN (virtual private network) business.