The time has come: the new copyright law, better known as the upload filter, is in effect. What does this mean in practice?
From June 7, a new law on copyright and copyright in Europe will come into effect. Member States must incorporate the new law into their own laws. Proponents see it as an update to the outdated copyright system. Opponents call it an “upload filter” and the beginning of the end of the free internet. But what does the new law mean for you in concrete terms?
What is the upload filter?
The less affectionate nickname ‘upload filter’ refers specifically to Article 13 of the new guidelines. Internet platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are obliged to monitor uploaded content; they become copyright enforcers. It will soon be their responsibility to check images, videos and texts. If the material is subject to copyright, those platforms will block the upload.
In line with this, there is also Article 15, nicknamed ‘link tax’. This concept is intended to protect press publications (but also artistic posts) by allowing platforms such as Google to request permission to publish links.
In practice, publishers want to see money. For the time being, Google News can use links from, for example, Apparata, including a snippet of the article, for free. In the future, they would have to pay to use our content. The same rule already applies in Australia.
What does this mean to you?
Assuming you’re not a journalist, only a few minor things will change for you once the upload filter is incorporated into our law. First of all, it will be more difficult to share memes, videos and photos on social media. It is not yet possible to say how algorithms will filter in the future. But it will probably become impossible to just share protected material. Presumably, platforms will simply cancel the upload if they notice that your meme is based on a scene from The Lord of the Rings.
In addition, it is likely that Google (and especially Google News) will work differently in the short term. The company has to make deals with all kinds of publishers and rights holders for publishing links with snippets. Perhaps Google only places links (without snippets) and states in the user rights that everyone who uses Analytics agrees to the ‘giving away’ of links.
Dangers of a filter
Apart from irritating side effects, the new law could bring benefits for journalists and other creators. Your work is now even better protected. For example, some of our articles have been completely copied (and translated) by a fake news site. The law does not necessarily affect this, but it does indicate how important protecting unique content can be.
But the problem is ultimately the technological limitation of filtering content. When the law was passed, I was already writing about some absurd copyright stories, such as a video that got copyright claims over noise. Or how about bird song claims, and even NASA’s images of the Mars landing that “were from a news station.”
In other words, algorithms are not yet at the point where they can distinguish creative, transformative content from plagiarism. Copyright is never an exact science, but always dependent on context and interpretation. And we know that algorithms still struggle with that.
In short, we are in for an exciting period. In the coming period, governments will have to incorporate the guidelines into laws. Only then will we really know how much we will feel the changes. Only then can we conclude whether this is really a black day for the internet, or just a small evolution of the age-old copyright.