Anyone following copyright debate may have an impression it is all about “money, money, money” (Abba). In COMMUNIA we believe that such an approach shows deep misunderstanding about the function of copyright. Copyright is just one angle of approaching more broader challenge, namely providing a just framework for to access to knowledge, information and culture. A well balanced copyright system is one of the fundamental underpinnings of a knowledge-based society.
Possibly the strongest challenge to such as system is are the proposals for forcing online platforms to filter all content uploaded by their users, put down in article 13 of the proposed Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market. We have underlined many times before that proposed regulation will have a chilling effect on sharing content, access to information and the the ability to operate open platforms online.
Today, over 50 NGOs (including COMMUNIA) representing human rights and media freedom have send today an open letter to the European Commission President, the European Parliament and the Council asking them to delete the content filter mechanism. This letter comes ahead of a crucial vote in the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee, in which the MEPs tasked with upholding our fundamental freedoms will give their opinion on the upload filters that the Commission wants to introduce through article 13. The signatories of the letter, which include many prominent human rights organisations like the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Human Rights Watch and Reporters without Borders, believe that the mechanism introduced through article 13:
- would violate the freedom of expression set out in the Charter of Fundamental Rights;
- provokes such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens’ communications.; and,
- includes obligations on internet companies that would be impossible to respect without the imposition of excessive restrictions on citizens’ fundamental rights.
If the European Union decides to approve the European Commission’s proposal, this would constitute an unprecedented step towards building an online censorship infrastructure. Similar filtering obligation have previously been rejected in the context of preventing terrorism and hate speech.
The article 13 would result in general monitoring obligation in order to prevent copyright infringement and will lead to preventive censorship. A recently published comparative study published by the Council of Europe reminds us that any restriction on the right to freedom of expression must be provided for by law, be proportionate and follow legitimate objectives. Blocking online speech should only be a measure of last resort and applied with great caution. It should be clear that Article 13 does not meet these criteria.
A crucial vote ahead
As mentioned above, the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) will soon take its position on proposed directive and we believe that this Committee should take a strong standing against content filter regulation in order to protect freedom of expression online. Upload monitoring software cannot tell infringement apart from legal uses, like parody and other user rights guaranteed by exceptions and limitations to copyright. When in doubt, platforms will block to avoid facing lawsuits. As a result, legal content will be taken down. For the LIBE committee to be a credible voice in this discussion, the MEPs in LIBE must vote for the the only sensible approach to article 13 and propose its deletion.