The end of memes

On Wednesday the European Parliament voted to kill the open internet.

Of course, that’s not what it said on the ballot paper, but it is what many are saying its effect will be.

Reddit said:

Today’s vote dealt a significant blow to the open Internet, and to smaller companies like Reddit.

It is disappointing to see the Parliament disregard the concerns of those constituents and experts who know the Internet best– including its very architects.

Wikimedia said:

Today, the European Parliament voted to adopt new rules that entrench outdated copyright policies and impose even greater barriers to access to knowledge online. Despite an outpouring of support from European citizens, including the Wikimedia community of volunteers, Parliament passed amendments that would require pre-filtering of uploads to internet platforms and failed to institute freedom of panorama protections across the European Union.

The Independent said:

EU parliament approves new copyright rules that could be ‘catastrophic’ for the internet

The Guardian said:

In punishing tech giants, the EU has made the internet worse for everyone

And The Times one-upped them all, asserting:

EU online copyright ruling ‘favours terrorists’

New European Union copyright legislation will create a “perverse incentive” forcing big internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, to take down copyrighted content before removing terrorist videos or child pornography.

So, what is this new ruling and why has is caused such uproar? I’ll explain.

Pre-crime and the future of the internet

Basically the ruling will introduce a “link tax” for every website and force content aggregators like Youtube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter… any website that lets people upload media, to pre-screen the content.

The two articles in question are Article 11 and 13.

Article 11 will introduce a “link tax”.

The link tax would mean if you link to another website, you’d have to pay them a fee for doing so. For example, if I link to the Verge’s coverage on this vote here, I would have to pay the Verge for doing so.

As the internet runs on links, this would create massive problems for essentially everyone that uses it. Especially for a site like Google, which is basically just an aggregator of links.

Article 13 will be much more intrusive. It will require companies to pre-censor content.

Basically all content… pictures, videos, music, computer code, etc, would have to be pre-screened to see if it breaks copyright law.

Because this would be too big a task for humans to do, it will fall to automatic filters to do it.

And those automatic filters are not very good. Memes will be deemed copyright, cover songs will be blocked, satire and impressions, photos of similar landscapes or similar items, basically anything that is too similar to something that’s already out there on the internet… which is basically everything.

This is why people are so outraged about the ruling.

Guardian columnist James Ball did a good job of showing how this system could be abused:

The filter will also lead to many more invalid copyright claims succeeding – just this week, the noted British pianist James Rhodes battled a totally invalid automated copyright takedown from Sony Music Entertainment, which stated (falsely) that it owned copyright to a recording Rhodes uploaded of himself playing Bach, which is out of copyright.

Rhodes appealed against the ruling, only to be rejected, eventually securing a reversal only thanks to his considerable public profile. Such incorrect rulings could become an even more common occurrence – especially as the new system contains no penalties for making false or incorrect claims. This could allow for widespread exploitation of the system as a new strain of denial-of-service attacks by online mobs, to get content people dislike taken down with a barrage of fake claims.

In a failed attempt to reason with the European Parliament, A group of 70 tech leaders, including the creator of the internet, submitted this letter to its president. Here is the crux of it:

By requiring Internet platforms to perform automatic filtering all of the content that their users upload, Article 13 takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.

But their pleas had no effect. The ruling passed.

So, is this as bad as people are saying? Well, yes and no.

The new legislation still needs to receive final approval in January. So it still might not go through. But that is looking less and less likely.

The bureaucrats, as usual, refuse to listen to reason, or to expert opinion. They are simply following their own moral compasses, or maybe more accurately, their own lobbyists.

And there is no way for ordinary citizens to have any say on the European Parliament’s ruling. So if they decide to go through with it in January, we are powerless to stop it.

However, as I say, nothing is set in stone yet. So for now at least, memes are safe.

After January, content on the internet may take a turn for the worse:

Until next time,

Harry Hamburg
Editor, Exponential Investor

Category: Technology

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