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Will Article 13 be the end of the internet?

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Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive could severely hamper social platforms such as YouTube. Moreover, time is running out for a reasonable compromise between creators, European viewers, and copyright holders.

YouTube and copyright

When it comes to digital content and copyright, YouTube is indeed no stranger to pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable. Long have artists and publishers complained that they have no recourse if someone uploads their work for profit.

To respond to these issues, YouTube implemented content ID recognition systems. If a copyrighted song or image is present in a video, the system automatically flags it. Once flagged, the uploader of the content and the original author go through a dispute process which is mediated by a human reviewer. If the content violates copyright, the author can either choose to have the video taken down or take some of the ad revenue generated by the infringing video.

While many publishers and creators were satisfied with this system, many in the music industry were not. Paul McCartney wrote, in a letter to the European Parliament, that there was a ‘value gap’ in which user upload content platforms refuse to compensate artists adequately.

Although artists are paid with the ad revenue generated from the videos, the percent they get is unknown. YouTube has stated they give most of the proceeds to the record label, which certainly jibes with my experience. I have seen all the ad revenue I would have received for a video I produced go to the record label of a song I included. The amount the label received would have been at least 54% of the ad revenue generated, still leaving YouTube with 46% of course.

The amount retained by YouTube is where the problem arises. Some artists, publishers, and groups such as the European Music Association want YouTube to pay more. Article 13 attempts to give it to them.

Article 13

Article 13 is a part of the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market or EU Copyright Directive (EUCD). The EUCD is a proposed EU directive intended to ensure “a well-functioning marketplace for the exploitation of works and other subject-matter… taking into account in particular digital and cross-border uses of protected content.”

Specifically, Article 13 replaces the ““mere conduit” exemption for for-profit online content sharing service providers with one of liability. Meaning, the platform where the content exists is now also responsible for the copyright. In the case of YouTube, it would be held liable if a user uploads copyrighted content to its site. The site would be required to remove the infringing video and use “best efforts” to prevent future availability.

Making YouTube, and other video sharing sites, strictly liable would give the rights-holders much more power allowing them to command more revenues or sue. Article 13 will surely make YouTube a lot more cautious of the videos it provides on the site.

The debate

It’s unlikely that the social media giant would allow itself to be vulnerable to such potential lawsuits. As a result, we would likely see much more aggressive automatic filtering of videos. Anything that could be remotely considered copyrighted would be flagged and taken down. Any logos, photos, and sounds would have to be checked rigorously before being published. Popular trends and viral videos that feature well-known images and phrases could also be at risk.

All-in-all, Article 13 will impact the richness and diversity of YouTube as a video site will. European viewers will pay the penalty as many creators, and their content vanishes. Additionally, smaller platforms that do not have the money to pay legal fees or institute wide-spread filters would be at risk. Copyright trolls, those who abuse copyright laws, would benefit.

Artists and musicians have long been lobbying for a change in post-digital Europe. The music they own has been uploaded to sites like YouTube without their permission for decades. The situation has resulted in a long-running war between the music publishers and tech giants. So far, the tech giants have been successful in delaying the process and getting legislation reworded in their favor. Could they successfully water-down Article 13?

The one group we haven’t heard from yet is the YouTube creators. With the final vote on Article 13 coming soon, time is running out to have their rights and issues understood and accommodated.  Moreover, the creators are whom the children and grandchildren of those in the EU parliament are watching. After Article 13 becomes law, those same parliamentarians could have some outraged young relatives with which to deal.

Why it matters

Copyright has and is a big problem for social video platforms. Their methods of fixing it have been satisfactory for some but not all.

Article 13 attempts to give more power to the rights-holders

Unfortunately, while this gives more power to some it will hurt the social video ecosystem in the long run.

Certain creators – the ones with no lobbying power – will suffer the most.


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