Next week, the European Parliament is set to vote on the final text of the Digital Single Market (DSM) Copyright Directive. The Directive was supposed to update European copyright law in a digital environment that had changed dramatically during past decades, for example, by helping creators obtain remuneration for use of their works and engage with new audiences. This objective is laudable, but the Directive Parliament is voting on will not achieve it. In particular, Article 13 of the Directive would seriously curtail citizens’ free expression and access to information, and upend core principles of the internet as we know it.
As explained, repeatedly, by many including UN Special rapporteur David Kaye, internet pioneers including Sir Tim Berners Lee and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, leading European academics, startups and NGOs, the mandatory use of filters to block and prevent copyright infringement would seriously harm freedom of expression. Even though the final text does not mention filters explicitly, they are the only means by which a content host can comply with Art. 13. Although the text underlines the importance of guaranteeing exceptions to copyright law, upload filters, which are likely to become ubiquitous, will not be able to do this. They will overblock expression that is allowed under exceptions such as those for parody, critique, etc. The proposed carve-outs from Art. 13 do not provide legal clarity and certainty for the many start-ups and SMEs that will face the massive costs and risks it creates.
MEPs should pay attention to what experts, startups, human rights groups and journalists have told them. But even more importantly, they should listen to the 5 million citizens who have signed a petition at Change.org to stop the reform.
Copyright legislation is inherently complex and needs to carefully balance the legitimate rights and interests of rightsholders, citizens and society as a whole. This Directive, if adopted with Article 13 in its current form, will fail to achieve such balance. 123 MEPs have already publicly stated they will vote against this text. We urge all other MEPs to join them at Pledge2019.