New Copyright Powers, New “Terrorist Content” Regulations: A Grim Day For Digital Rights in Europe

Despite waves of calls and emails from European Internet users, the European Parliament today voted to accept the principle of a universal pre-emptive copyright filter for content-sharing sites, as well as the idea that news publishers should have the right to sue others for quoting news items online – or even using their titles as links to articles. Out of all of the potential amendments offered that would fix or ameliorate the damage caused by these proposals, they voted for worst on offer.

There are still opportunities, at the EU level, at the national level, and ultimately in Europe’s courts, to limit the damage. But make no mistake, this is a serious setback for the Internet and digital rights in Europe.

It also comes at a trepidatious moment for pro-Internet voices in the heart of the EU. On the same day as the vote on these articles, another branch of the European Union’s government, the Commission, announced plans to introduce a new regulation on “preventing the dissemination of terrorist content online”. Doubling down on speedy unchecked censorship, the proposals will create a new “removal order”, which will oblige hosting service providers to remove content within one hour of being ordered to do so. Echoing the language of the copyright directive, the Terrorist Regulation “aims at ensuring smooth functioning of the digital single market in an open and democratic society, by preventing the misuse of hosting services for terrorist purposes”; it encourages the use of “proactive measures, including the use of automated tools.”

Not content with handing copyright law enforcement to algorithms and tech companies, the EU now wants to expand that to defining the limits of political speech too.

And as bad as all this sounds, it could get even worse. Elections are coming up in the European Parliament next May. Many of the key parliamentarians who have worked on digital rights in Brussels will not be standing. Marietje Schaake, author of some of the better amendments for the directive, announced this week that she would not be running again. Julia Reda, the German Pirate Party representative, is moving on; Jan Philipp Albrecht, the MEP behind the GDPR, has already left Parliament to take up a position in domestic German politics. The European Parliament’s reserves of digital rights expertise, never that full to begin with, are emptying.

The best that can be said about the Copyright in the Digital Single Market Directive, as it stands, is that it is so ridiculously extreme that it looks set to shock a new generation of Internet activists into action – just as the DMCA, SOPA/PIPA and ACTA did before it.

If you’ve ever considered stepping up to play a bigger role in European politics or activism, whether at the national level, or in Brussels, now would be the time.

It’s not enough to hope that these laws will lose momentum or fall apart from their own internal incoherence, or that those who don’t understand the Internet will refrain from breaking it. Keep reading and supporting EFF, and join Europe’s powerful partnership of digital rights groups, from Brussels-based EDRi to your local national digital rights organization. Speak up for your digital business, open source project, for your hobby or fandom, and as a contributor to the global Internet commons.

This was a bad day for the Internet and for the European Union: but we can make sure there are better days to come.


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Author: Danny O'Brien

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