This really could be the week that defines the Internet. Because the EU is about to vote on an incredibly controversial bill – and if it passes, the web as we know it might change considerably.
On Thursday, July 5, the European Parliament will be voting on the Copyright Directive, which was put forward for a full vote in June after it was approved by the EU’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI).
The legislation seeks to change how copyright works on the Internet. There are a lot of parts to it, but the most contentious bits are Article 11 and Article 13.
Although the wording of both is vague, the former appears to support stricter checks on links within articles. This means that if a website hyperlinked to another one in an article, like this (hello!), it would require websites to pay for a license to do so.
That might be fine for large media companies, but for smaller ones, such a fee may be beyond their means. Making it costly to insert links could mean useful information is less widely shared – leading to the spread of, yes we’re going to say it, fake news.
Then there’s the equally disastrous Article 13. This would make publishers responsible for all content that’s posted on their site, even from users. So if you posted a link to or picture of copyrighted material in the comments on an article, the website would be liable. Again, fine for big publishers with big resources – but not good for small ones.
The recent plight has been highlighted today by Wikipedia, with the Italian version locking readers out to protest the upcoming vote. The English version, meanwhile, carries a banner that urges readers to take action.
Understandably, people are not happy about all this. A group of experts including founder of the World Wide Web Tim Berners-Lee signed a letter that said Article 13 specifically would transform the Internet into “a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users.”
And what action can be taken? If you live in the EU, then you can contact a Member of the European Parliament (MEP), and tell them why this legislation is a terrible idea. There’s a handy website here that’ll help you do that.
If you care about the future of the free and open Internet, then now is the time to do something. With the US recently repealing Net Neutrality laws, it’s down to the EU to prove that the whole world hasn’t gone insane. Here’s hoping.