Fresh from the finalization of the language of the European Union’s Copyright Directive by the EU Parliament and Council, the EU Commission posted an article on Medium defending the legislation, particularly the controversial Article 13, which holds media platform companies responsible copyright infringement, potentially forcing these companies to employ faulty blanket content filters within Europe. Far from helpful, the article generated intense backlash due to its rather dismissive stance towards criticisms of the directives, likening the grassroots movement against Article 13 to a corporate ad-fueled mob, and it was quickly removed by the Commission. However, the original post, able to be found here, speaks a lot to how the EU Commission views the debate over Article 13.
The EU Commission Medium is unique in that it’s incredibly informal and emotional, starting with its title, “The Copyright Directive: how the mob was told to save the dragon and slay the knight.” Throughout the article, the Commission frames Article 13 as an effort to reign in tech monopolies and help creators, much like a knight may save a princess from a dragon, but both who Article 13 hurts and who it helps is wildly different. Although breaking up the power of tech companies is an important objective, the complicated nature of social media companies as both platforms and publishers will offset the costs of this action onto small creators while benefiting large music publishing companies.
In block letters, the Commission’s article insists that Article 13 does not ban memes, highlighting exceptions made for “pastiche, critique, and parody” to which social media companies will be able to adhere. It portrays these companies as single-minded entities, noting that they can profit from the ads on sites or videos that use copyrighted content. Yet, while companies like YouTube, Google, and Facebook profit off these ads, they don’t post the videos that use this copyrighted content. As media platforms, they, initially, accept material from anyone who decided to upload and disseminate content. This free access to content producing has fueled the growth of these companies to the point where YouTube, for instance, sees over 300 hours of video uploaded every minute.
However, these media platform companies can also be seen as media publishers, given that they, in some way, “curate” content. This can be as simple as maintaining community guidelines, which puts the company in the position of taking down content that does not comply with their image. Given the size of these platforms, companies cannot individually review each video and thus rely on automatic filtering and community reporting. These systems can’t yet catch the nuances like parody or critique. They simply flag, and, as many creators can attest, it is difficult to challenge. Most importantly, this filtering is highly prone to error, missing content in violation and overzealously flagging content that does not. Article 13 in current form won’t fight the tech companies but hurt their hostages, the content creators that depend on these companies to make a living.
Meanwhile, it should be known who exactly Article 13 benefits, and it increasingly appears to only benefits publishers. With the exception of the music industry, most creatives have either withdrawn support for or lambasted Article 13, and within the music industry, there is infighting between publishers and labels, which want stricter copyright laws, and artists. Music publishers are no strangers to copyright controversies on media platform companies with some overzealously filing copyright claims on YouTube or even making completely false claims. Article 13 will embolden these claims. Article 13’s sister, Article 11, which imposes a type of link tax on search engines by requiring that they purchase licenses to include clips of articles from news publishers, also benefits large publishers rather than small ones, as Google may be unwilling to pay licenses for the content of smaller companies.