PLEASE WATCH THE VIDEO BELOW
The EU Copyright Directive coming down the pipe could destroy the internet as you know it with a profound effect on both news and creativity.
I have been asked by some to do a video on the proposed EU directive for copyright in the Digital Single Market. But I have a couple of twists on the usual to throw into the mix.
Now some people will say that we are leaving the EU so we can just kick this one into touch and ignore it. The problem is that whether we are in or out of the EU we will have to deal with it if we want to trade with the EU.
Right now the the new EU General Data Protection Regulation, you know the one that caused all those please re-sign up to my mailing list E-Mails, is causing havoc not just within the EU but around the world with anyone who wants to have any dealings with the European Union.
And it will be the same with this new copyright directive.
But first a reminder.
Apart from the treaties themselves there are two main ways of getting EU law through.
One is by making it an EU regulation, which is what the General Data Protection Regulation is (the clue is in the title) and these are binding, apply automatically and uniformly to all EU countries with no need for national laws to be passed.
The second is by making it a Directive, which requires countries to then write national laws in their own way in order to achieve the specific outcome the directive requires.
And this is where things get a little interesting. And why – because of the misleading way our politicians deal with them and I thought I'd use the new copyright directive proposal to show you what I mean.
But first I have to point out that there are bucketloads of very informed commentators out there that have severe misgivings about this directive, especially Articles 11 and 13. And there are also numerous reports about extreme political arm-twisting being applied to get it through.
Under Article 11, news outlets will be able to charge people to link to them. So, the likes Google and Facebook for example would have to pay licensing fees to all the newspapers, TV and Radio stations around the world in order to provide links to the news, those links that you put there when you post stuff. And if you run a small blog and comment on the news, you will have to pay as well when you link.
But, and this is a big but, who decides who the news outlets are that can charge? Who will decide which newspaper is on the official list – will it be government or a quango set up to deal with it? The dangers to freedom of speech of that are obvious. And will there be a fee to appear on the list and what will you have to sign up to?
And will the search engines then place those official sites at the very top of all the news rankings with the smaller players who pay the link fees underneath them? And will those that commentate without being on the list or not linking to the big official boys be penalised as 'fake news' and sandboxed?
In fact this has been tried before in Spain and it failed dismally, so why the push now for it to be rolled out across the whole EU?
And the big one with Article 13 is that all content uploaded to the web will have to be put through an algorithm to check it for copyright infringements before it's published. Can you imagine the disruption that will cause and the technological horsepower required to achieve it. And what will happen to the likes of fair use?
And of course the really big players are the only ones who can deal with this and afford the costs. So much for the EU looking after the little players.
But back to the directive and how our politicians are dealing with it.
One of the main drivers behind this directive has been the claim that the EU wants to see the creators of content or the copyright holders get properly rewarded. That is it wants to address the so-called 'value gap' between what the creator gets out of publication on the internet, normally very little, and what the platform its published on gets, normally the lion's share.
Please hold that thought of value gap for a moment while I take you back to the 2015 UK general election.
For that election both Labour and Tory manifestos contained digital pledges. Labour's main thrust was to digitise government and provide broadband. The Tories talked about broadband again as well as training and getting rid of digital exclusion.
Then in 2016 the EU issued this copyright directive talking about getting rid of the 'value gap'.
Now skip forward to 2017 and the election where both main parties said in their manifestos that we were leaving the EU and they would respect the will of the people.
But buried at the back of the Tory manifesto is their Digital Charter, which talks about a robust system of copyright protection and strong protections against infringement.
It also talks about protecting the reliability and objectivity of information (ie news) as well as:
"We will ensure content creators are appropriately rewarded for the content they make available online."
All you have to do is compare it to the EU directive to see where the Tories sourced their Digital Charter from.
And in the 2017 Labour Party Manifesto appears:
"We recognise the serious concern about the ‘value gap’ between producers of creative content and the digital services that profit from its use, and we will work with all sides to review the way that innovators and artists are rewarded for their work in the digital age."
So, as far as I am concerned both main parties knew this EU directive was coming down the pipe and intended to support it because they had no choice, other than to do as the EU told them. But neither had the courage to admit that, as it would have lost them many, many votes and called into doubt their commitment to leave the EU.
And they obviously weren't going to call each other out on it as they were both engaged in the same mendacious little game – and that was, playing the electorate for fools.
But it gets worse.
The exact reasoning for the Commission to start working on this directive back in 2015 is unclear and I believe that Julia Reda has submitted an FOI request about it to the Commission.
The fear of course being that big business is driving this hard with no care for the little people and consumers.
Also, the fledgling directive spent two years in committees behind closed doors in the Council of Ministers before it was announced on the 25th May this year that an agreed amended version had been formulated.
Now the directive will come before the JURI committee of MEPs on the 20th and 21st of this month and, because it is Labour and Tory policy, their MEPs will I think vote in support of it. There are I believe one of each on this committee of about 25 voting MEPs.
So, after three years of Commission and Council of Ministers work, where I assume the Tories played an influential part, the EU Parliament MEPs get a mere month to look at it in any meaningful way, before it goes on to the next stage.
EU Democracy in action!
And when this flawed piece of EU legislation is passed into EU law as a directive, the UK government will be issued with instructions to get it onto the UK statute book within a given timescale.
And because it is in both the Tory and Labour manifestos it will get rubber stamped all the way through.
And Theresa May will say look another manifesto commitment followed through on, where all she really did was obey EU instructions to the letter every step of the way standing shoulder to shoulder with Jeremy Corbyn.
If you want to stop this please write to your local MEPs as well as your own MP and warn them of this. You have two weeks (if those politicians can be bothered to listen that is).