Copyright reform: Internet freedom at risk?

After the EU Parliament the European Council has also approved the copyright reform obliging online platforms to prevent the uploading of copyrighted content by a narrow margin. There were mass demonstrations against the reform in several cities, driven by fears that it will promote censorship and restrict Internet freedom. Commentators voice their dismay at the result of the vote.

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Explanations won't change anything is appalled that the German government approved the reform despite the additional statement against upload filters it insisted on adding to the directive:

“Yes, the statement has given Germany a little room to manoeuvre. But how much? The fundamental tenets of the reform must be implemented in the same way in all EU states. After all, that's what guidelines are for. Nevertheless to a certain extent the government is putting its cards on the table. Because the statement stipulates that its ambition is to make upload filters for the most part superfluous. In other words: it can't prevent them entirely. ... In fact the government should have done its best to break up the guideline early on. The murky part - which is now called Article 17 and will very likely lead to upload filters - should have been separated from the more pertinent remainder of the document.”

La Stampa (IT) /

You can't get any more illogical

La Stampa, on the other hand, is appalled by the Italian government's decision to reject the copyright reform:

“You might suspect that Five Star wants to defend its self-adulation as the pioneer of the Internet, even though its confusing website belies this claim. ... Lega is endorsing this perhaps due to its fundamental aversion to quality journalism. A cabinet that foists a one-sided and sometimes embarassingly nationalist narrative wrapped up as sovereigntist on newspapers, television and social media people while at the same time rejecting a measure that defends content produced on 'our territory' - as Lega and Five Star are fond of stressing in talk shows - is logical hara-kiri.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Machines can't cope with complex content

The copyright reform discredited itself shortly after it was agreed on, Die Presse writes with a smirk:

“On the very same evening the video platform Youtube gave a spectacular demonstration of how dysfunctional these upload filters are. When a livestream on the Notre-Dame fire was uploaded onto Youtube, the algorithm confused the cathedral with the twin towers of the World Trade Center which were destroyed on September 11, 2001. To make matters worse, Youtube superimposed an info box warning users about fake news, thus sowing doubts about the veracity of the Notre-Dame fire. ... Their fallibility shows not only that the upload filters the directive calls for won't bring the desired results. The more complex the content, the 'dumber' the machines appear to be.”

Hospodářské noviny (CZ) /

Internet will continue to function

There can be no talk of this being the end of the Internet, as opponents of the reform claim, Hospodářské noviny argues:

“People must calm down. No one is going to switch off - or censor - the Internet. It will go on working as usual. What's legal now will remain legal. And for normal users nothing will change. The real conflict is taking place one storey up. Between the publishers of content on the one hand and the Internet giants on the other. If someone is making revenues from visitor clicks and ads thanks to the work of others, the money should be fairly distributed. Even so, media companies have a long way to go before they start making more money out of the Internet.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Europe showing it can lead the way

With this decision the EU has shown that it is capable of addressing complex issues, columnist Daniele Manca comments approvingly in Corriere della Sera:

“Already with the General Data Protection Directive, which was also highly controversial but is now a benchmark worldwide, Europe has assumed its role as a place where rules are born and conscientiously developed. Rules that serve as a basis for civil coexistence and development. This is all the more necessary when it comes to guaranteeing freedom of expression and the reproduction of content on which the formation of a solid and informed public opinion depends.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Tech giants not fit for role of Internet police

Dagens Nyheter doubts that the big Internet providers will be able to filter content protected by copyright:

“It is by no means a logical step to entrust platforms that can't even tell the difference between a pornographic image and a statue from Ancient Greece with the role of copyright police. One fears that the big Internet companies will prove unwilling and unable to meet the requirements regarding quotes, satire and 'memes'. Moreover the concerns about smaller players not being able to install the required filters are justified. ... It would be better if instead of trying to take the easy path (filtering everything that's in any way undesirable), the Internet giants finally assumed the editorial responsibility which they've been so keen to avoid up to now.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Europe's youth given the finger

The EU Parliament has ignored an entire generation with this step, Der Standard criticises:

“Many MEPs have no idea how important platforms like Youtube are for an entire generation. And that's not surprising: the average age in the European Parliament in 2018 was 51. That said, it's clear that copyright laws need to be reformed. No one questions that. There are many clever proposals that don't involve upload filters. But instead EU legislators refused to compromise and pushed through a nebulous text that puts Europe's Internet behind a potential censorship infrastructure, robbing the youth of their digital homeland in the process. The reform passed on Tuesday by the EU Parliament above all does one thing: it gives the finger to Europe's youth.”

Večer (SI) /

Censorship tool for big companies

The whole thing is a pre-arranged game between the big companies and EU politicians, Večer suspects:

“It's clear that big companies, and not just the tech giants like Facebook and Google, are very keen to shape public opinion by only showing content they like. The protection of copyright is without doubt the easiest means to conceal censorship. ... What's more, it's no secret that these companies not only have astronomic budgets for their lobbying but also use a rotating-door system, putting their own people in influential positions within the EU institutions. ... For their part the politicians who listen to them are rewarded with well-paid management posts in their companies.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Justice for artists and authors

The reform may not be perfect but it is necessary, columnist Gianni Riotta writes in La Stampa:

“There can be no doubt that the Internet has brought about an unprecedented diffusion of culture and knowledge. And it would be impossible to set limits on this fantastic library. At the same time it is difficult for artists and authors - in particular those who work for independent labels or newspapers - to assert their rights vis-à-vis the big social platforms. They are victims of a lack of regulations. Clearly the reform is not yet perfect and needs to be improved. But like the 2018 General Data Protection Regulation and the Code of Practice on Disinformation before it, it has the merit of putting digital legislation in the forefront.”

Die Presse (AT) /

It's about power and monopolies

Those who are demonstrating against the copyright reform are unintentionally supporting the big companies, says Die Presse:

“The Internet giants are against upload filters - but for an entirely different reason. They earn their money with content that moves across their platforms. Monitoring this content is expensive and narrows the profit margins. The fact that criticism is coming from entirely different directions but all has the same goal can be interpreted in two ways. Either the proposed directive is incredibly bad, or some of its critics haven't understood something about it. In the case of European copyright it is the latter. Google, Facebook and co. know exactly why they want to block the copyright reform. The demonstrators, by contrast, believe this is about funny cat footage and video blogs when in truth it's about power and monopolies.”

The Times (GB) /

Protection for creators enriches the Internet

The planned copyright reform will also benefit media consumers, writes Angela Mills Wade, head of the European Publishers Council, in The Times:

“It is difficult to imagine how giving press publishers and other creators the right to set terms and conditions for others to reuse their content commercially could have become so controversial. Voting for this copyright reform will enrich the internet, which is only as valuable and as useful as the quality of the content that populates it. A vote for the directive will be a vote for fairness, for culture, for creativity and, crucially, for the future of Europe's professional, diverse independent press.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Copyright law will soon be obsolete

It is too doubtful that the copyright reform will put an end to the debate about intellectual property, two researchers at think tank L'Institut Thomas More argue in Le Monde:

“While the media, journalists, artists and other creators can be happy with this compromise, they shouldn't celebrate too much - or too long. Because although they may be winning a battle, the real war over copyrights has not yet begun. First of all because the Gafa (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), which are the targets of the directive, will make a point of quickly developing their own media. ... And secondly because it's very possible that the automatic production of content by artificial intelligence will soon render the very concept of 'copyright' obsolete.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

For whose freedom are they demonstrating?

The Süddeutsche Zeitung advises opponents of the reform not to be taken in by the lobbyists:

“The word 'filter' is nowhere to be found in the text of the reform proposal. 'Upload filter' is just as much a battle cry used by the reform's opponents as the phrase 'Internet freedom'. It wasn't demonstrators who came up with it, but lobbyists and network NGOs trying to foment anti-EU sentiment in Europe. The upload filter is a chimera used by digital companies to create a horror scenario that they claim will be the inevitable result of the reform. ... These games aimed at creating confusion are a standard lobbying tactic. The weapons, car and tobacco industries have always known how to exploit concepts of freedom and rebellious pop culture for their own interests”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

Who poses the real threat

Not the EU copyright reform but above all the Internet companies are the real threat to the dream of a free Internet, Le Quotidien argues:

“For the artists and authors whose work is not remunerated, the policy of these companies is synonymous with social insecurity. ... The Internet pioneers dreamed of a completely free space, with no costs and accessible to all: a democratic tool in the service of the citizens of the world. ... The intention is commendable and deserves support. Unfortunately the multinational US companies take a different view. For them the Internet is a place to make money. Nothing more than that.”

Denik (CZ) /

This isn't about censorship

The protest driven by opponents of the copyright reform ignores the real issue here, comments Denik:

“Google, Facebook and other platforms take quality journalism, market it for their own purposes and generate huge revenues from the sale of targeted advertising. Most of these advertising revenues doesn't go to the publishers or journalists. The reform wants to prevent this. This has nothing to do with Internet censorship. Appeals to the public to defend the Internet only conceal the business interests of the technology giants of this world.” (DE) /

The way to alienate young voters vents its anger at the ignorance with which the copyright reform was pushed through over the heads of its critics:

“As if the whole thing had gone ahead according to the motto: 'We're the only adults in the room, and all the critics are just angry Internet millennials whose voices it would be foolish to heed'. If the idea is to spread disenchantment with politics, this is the way to do it. Shortly before the European elections take place a majority of the European Parliament is scaring off a predominantly young, pro-European voter base. These voters are left with the impression that other people are deciding on laws that are of key importance for them: namely lobby-driven bureaucrats who still send faxes and need an assistant to handle their Twitter account. Europe needs a copyright law, and urgently - but not this one.”