The EU’s Legal Affairs Committee recently moved a step closer to implementing a controversial new copyright directive that many people are expressing concerns about. If implemented into EU law, the new copyright rules will oblige content platforms to evaluate all submissions and ensure they don’t breach copyright. Websites and apps using content uploaded to their platform would need to screen it before publication.
It’s likely they’ll need to implement some kind of automated filtering to detect copyrighted material added to their sites. Complying with a directive like this will be expensive and it’ll add complexity to the publication of submissions.
It’s hard to argue that copyright rules shouldn’t be updated. The EU’s present copyright law dates back to 2001 and the digital publishing environment has really moved on since then. But it’s also unclear whether the technology even exists presently to implement the changes the EU is considering.
Opponents of the proposed new rules include many publishers and lawyers working in the area of copyright law, as well as Tim Berners-Lee, the web’s own inventor. Smaller platforms have expressed concern that the new rules will favour bigger players such as Facebook, who have more resources to implement the required platform and process changes.
There’s also concern that the copyright rules could lead to a new environment of surveillance and control of web users by policing what content they are sharing. It could also clamp down on some forms of content adaptation.
Adapting existing content for satirical purposes is a good example. Popular trends such as using reaction gifs from popular shows as memes could also be under threat.
One element of the proposed legislation, known as ‘link tax’, would oblige publishers that use news content snippets to get a license from the news creator first. This would severely impact on aggregators and news apps, and it’s likely to favour the bigger players in the market.
When similar legislation was tried in individual European countries, bigger platforms such as Facebook and Google simply boycotted news outlets until they caved in and gave them free licenses. The problem is these free licenses weren’t given to smaller publishers, so it’s another example of the regulation favouring bigger players.
It’s also thought that some parts of the proposed regulation could be a real threat to new AI ventures, with many startups feeling they would have to move their activities outside the EU if it were implemented.
The proposed legislation will impact data mining; the bread and butter of AI applications. Under the new rules startups using big data would be obliged to get explicit permission to mine data. For those using big data scraped from the internet, it would be an almost impossible task and certainly not cost-effective.
It’s not yet clear whether the technology is yet available to support compliance with the proposed copyright directive. Publishers would need some way of identifying who the original content owner is, which is often difficult to trace particularly with fast, informally created content such as memes, gifs, and user-generated content.
Many platforms would need to implement new editorial tools and publishing gates, and probably hire new human editorial staff. It’s likely that AI solutions to support new editorial requirements wouldn’t be ready for a number of years.
With the digital industry already facing skills shortages in a number of areas, it’s likely to be difficult to respond to any proposed copyright rules. The EU rule makers will need to provide adequate warning of any changes to copyright rules in order to allow platforms time to adjust.
But it’s highly likely that the costs and complexities of responding to the change will drive some platforms out of business, and others may go underground.
Supporters of the new copyright plans might argue that YouTube already has a system in place that is able to detect and react to copyrighted material being uploaded to its platform. But the new legislation proposed that all types of material – from text and images to software and audio – also needs to be screened for copyright.
Comparisons to GDPR
When the EU implemented its notorious GDPR regulations, many businesses struggled to respond and adapt their data practices in time for the deadline. These rules didn’t just impact on businesses based in the EU – other global businesses were also required to comply with the rules where the data of EU citizens were affected.
Some US-based businesses decided not to bother with all the work and costs involved in complying with GDPR, opting to avoid the EU market altogether. Many smaller US-based businesses and ad tech firms have decided to eschew the EU market.
Will global businesses take the same decision if the EU presses ahead with its controversial copyright proposals? It’s going to take some time for them to formulate a response. When GDPR was implemented, many businesses took a long time to grind into gear and many had to rush through changes to their practices right at the last minute.
That’s the despite the fact there were almost 2 years from the regulation being agreed on to the point where businesses needed to be compliant with it.
It’s unclear whether the proposed rule changes will be voted into law, and there’s plenty of room for amendments before that date. The EU could eventually decide to pass a much more watered-down version of what’s currently under debate – or it could enact the plans in full.
Businesses need to learn from the messy implementation of GDPR and not make the same mistakes as many organisations did in the past. The important thing is to react early to the new rules and formulate a response and plan of action shortly after any new copyright rules come into place. Don’t bury your head in the sand and leave it to the eleventh hour.