We need to save our internet

The EU’s Article 13 is a dangerous threat to our liberties on the web

Image: European Union 2018- European Parliament

If I were to describe our generation with a single word, to encapsulate our contribution to global society, I would say: “MEMES”. The internet of today has mutated from the marketplace of the future to a place flourishing with creativity. It is a weird, wonderful, and possibly drug-fuelled,frenzy of funny posts, memes, videos and “relatable” content. My attitude to this frenzy is best summed up by the saying: “born too late to explore the world, too early to explore the stars, but just in time to share memes”. Practically every person on campus will surf the web in one way or another. Sadly, this world that so many people appreciate and even love (with varying degrees of irony) is under attack.

This month, the European Parliament passed changes to copyright laws within the EU. The most controversial of these new laws is Article 13. Article 13 enforces strict copyright on the internet, meaning that the top websites for sharing posts will have to devise a system to take down content that infringes copyright law before the offending material is even uploaded. Supporters of the changes argue that original content creators will benefit as pirated content will be nearly impossible to find.

Unfortunately, this law applies a blanket definition to all things uploaded to Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. It kills fair use of content such as the background for memes, song parodies, and covers. This stymies creativity while protecting the very people who can afford to lose money over the small amount of pirated content that slips through the current net.

What infuriates me is that the people who are advocating for this law, such as Paul McCartney and MEP Axel Voss, clearly don’t understand how the internet works in its current state. The only way to bring about the non-pirated internet dream world that they desire is to use something like the monetisation filter on Youtube to filter content by algorithm. Such a system is one that every youtuber knows and despises for its blanket approach to demonetising content and piecemeal approach to reviewing content. What’s more, Nouse uses photos (such as the charming picture of Axel Voss above) under a creative commons license. Essentially, we can use it to our hearts’ content for non-commercial purposes so long as we credit them.

Under the new system, all the pictures you see will have to be paid for, or be blocked by the proposed algorithm. Which, given that student media’s finances have all the sustainability of a wet lettuce, will mean fewer pictures, fewer pages and, in the end, fewer editions. The media aren’t lying when they say that this will mean the end of the internet as we know it. Only the larger news websites and forums will be able to afford this new expense. This is probably the most tone-deaf thing that the European Union has ever done. Not considering the wider implications of their actions, they now double down on their own incompetence. The only resistance has come from the “save the internet” campaign, which was so close to blocking the legislation but unfortunately failed at the last vote. “Save the internet” was a bipartisan campaign from UKIP and the Greens, showing what a bizarro world Article 13 has generated.

The filter that the EU is proposing may now be used to block content on the basis of copyright infringement. My main concern is the potential for the EU to use this to infringe on people’s civil liberties. The passing of this bill gives the EU an extraordinary tool to use against anyone it deems at fault. It is ripe for abuse, for the purpose of censorship and beyond.

I find it ridiculous that such a momentous decision was taken without the consultation of the internet community. Over 60 internet moguls sent a letter condemning the new law, including Tim Berners Lee. What should have been a debate with internet experts has become a rush to satisfy a single demographic, regardless of the consequences. Once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we may have to adhere to their laws which means that our content is no longer safe.

If I were to describe the internet, I would say that it is a place where the best and worst of humanity come to peer at each other from their screens. Occasionally they toss the odd video, meme or post across the boundary and watch people tear them to shreds in the comments, then watch people defend the uploader, then defend the critics, until you question the very meaning of reasoned dialogue. In short, a mess. But it’s our mess, quite possibly the most important mess in human history. So, like a guilty puppy when its owners arrive back from a night out, we must defend our mess.

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