The EU’s proposed copyright rules could upend the internet economy

Sep 14, 2018

New digital copyright laws pushed forward by the European Parliament this week would make platforms like Google, Facebook and YouTube share more of their profits with creators, news organizations, musicians and artists. The laws would make them take more aggressive steps to filter copyrighted material. But critics, including YouTubers, say the law is so broad that it could lead to widespread censorship and even kill off internet memes. Molly Wood talks through the issues with Joanna Plucinska, a tech reporter for Politico Europe. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Joanna Plucinska: What this law would compel is that more of this kind of copyright-specific technology would be used by more platforms. But the issue is it's not always very sophisticated. Many digital-rights activists say that this could lead to everything from memes to photos to a whole different range of creative content being taken down or not available on the internet because of this lack of nuance in this technology. 

Molly Wood: What about what critics are calling a "link tax"? The idea that publications can have control over how their material is shared or aggregated.

Plucinska: A lot of the people who are critical of this proposal say this will give media publishers power to potentially ask someone who tweeted out a link to their article to pay for it. And I think that policymakers have been very, very careful. Specifically, the European Parliament put this in the text, that this will not apply to links and that this is really about snippets of content, so short extracts from articles that show up when you open Google News, for example. So it would basically force Google News to enter a licensing agreement with big media publishers. But then critics say that there's not enough nuance in the text, their fear is that this will actually potentially affect individual users who share this content through various means. 

Wood: Is it your sense that there is support for some version of this legislation? Because these are real issues for media outlets and creators and musicians. 

Plucinska: I think that in Europe, specifically in countries like France and Germany, cultural sectors.... So French music and French film, or, you know, German comedy, these kinds of things are very important to citizens and to individuals. So I think there is broad support among politicians that this law could actually help protect those industries and help them survive in the digital age. That being said, we also do see a vast backlash against this law and a lot of fear and worry that this will lead to censorship online.

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