Article 13 will change the internet

Alexandru Fartade


YouTube has also begun fearing and increase its offense against Article 13 of the new EU copyright law: Here is the post, which was issued a few days ago by the CEO Susan Wojcicki on the official YouTube blog

“Article 13 as written threatens to shut down the ability of millions of people — from creators like you to everyday users — to upload content to platforms like YouTube. And it threatens to block users in the EU from viewing content that is already live on the channels of creators everywhere. This includes YouTube’s incredible video library of educational content, such as language classes, physics tutorials and other how-to’s.”

official article

The streaming giant has drawn attention to this issue by using a system that will undoubtedly reach a much greater audience. In fact, there are numerous reports across Europe stating that what once was a button used for subscribing to ‘YouTube Premium’ had been replaced with a message elaborating that “the article 13 could have unexpected consequences “. As in the post of Wojcicki, YouTube reiterates that it could be forced to “block millions of new and existing videos in the European Union and could drastically limit the content that can be uploaded to the platform in Europe”. Of course, the risk is not just for YouTube, but rather for all the big and small online platforms out there.


What does Article 13 of the Copyright reform include?

Article 13 of the EU copyright and copyright reform states that companies who have access to large amounts of data should take measures by checking in advance all content uploaded by users:

“Member States shall facilitate, where appropriate, the cooperation between the information society service providers and rightholders through stakeholder dialogues to define best practices, such as appropriate and proportionate content recognition
technologies, taking into account, among others, the nature of the services, the availability of the technologies and their effectiveness in light of technological developments.”

(Full document “Copyright in the Digital Single Market” here)

Virtually all online platforms that handle millions of data, videos, photos, etc., should verify that everything published online can not infringe copyright, so the platforms could block any content through their algorithm. These platforms, which in most cases are not even located in Europe but outside, would have the power to decide what has to be published and what is not, the type of information citizens could benefit from and what would be better to avoid. On the other side, small and medium-sized companies that work on the web and do not have the economic means that multinational companies have; therefore, will be difficult or impossible for them to implement these “recognition technologies”. Article 13 elaborates that all content uploaded online in the European Union must first be checked and then published in order to prevent the infringement of copyright materials.

The preventive control system on the material published online should, therefore, function as the YouTube Content ID, i.e. with an automated recognition system that the images of the video are not protected by copyright, in order to avoid publication without a permit, thus allowing the division of revenues between the owners of copyright. However, the content ID is a complicated and very expensive system and it seems almost impossible that a similar mechanism can be applied to every image, video or article uploaded online within the European Union.


Article 13 is not sustainable

First of all, one of the fundamental principles of law is that anyone is innocent until proven otherwise. If we transfer this idea to content, every content is legitimate until proven otherwise; having to insert a filter “a priori” means to affirm the opposite: every content is assumed to be unpublishable until it has been proven otherwise, and that in itself is completely unacceptable.
The second problem is intellectual: automatic filters do not understand the nuances of human meaning and language, such as irony. A meme that teases a politician could be blocked, the image of the character or a quote would be seen as an attempt to infringe copyrighted material rather than make satire.

We have already seen how the YouTube ID has made many mistakes in the past, considering that it is a technology that has more than 11 years, but it is still far from perfection. Everything could then lead to actual censorship. A total control over everything that is uploaded online can become repressive. You’ll think it’s a far-off hypothesis, but it is not so far as in 2015, the Government of Ecuador used a copyright law that had placed a hold on a dozen online newspaper simple due to the fact they were criticizing the executive’s work.


Who will suffer most from these laws?

Users will have access to less content and will be unable to share their content with others, even when it’s legal. Moreover, any complaint mechanisms will be easily bypassed if blocking is done under the pretense of terms and conditions violation, rather than as a result of a specific copyright claim.

If platforms become directly liable for user-uploaded content, they will arbitrarily remove content based on their terms and conditions. As a result, many creators will see their content get blocked too and with that being said, fewer platforms would survive the burden of this provision, and creators will have less choice on where to share their creations.

Only platforms with of high scale will be able to comply with the Article 13 requirements and even if small enterprises get an exemption from its scope, this simply means they are not allowed to scale up and compete with the major US platforms.


What can we do?

The new law is accepted with great concern by the giants of the web. In a letter, people like Tim Berners Lee (the creator of the WWW) and Jimmy Wales (the founder of Wikipedia), asks the president of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani to intervene and take a step back and fight against the proposal. The German MEP Julia Reda who is the leader of the faction is opposing the new regulation, and even simple digital citizens have managed to gather 4 million signatures on the portal in order to abolish this law. What we should all do is to inform others, sign a petition by visiting the following website: and share the problem with as many people as possible. The Internet as we know it is at risk and such regulation is also a threat to our freedom of expression. Be Angry and #SaveTheInternet.