The EU’s proposed copyright laws: protecting creators or a “tool for surveillance”?

Despite warnings that it could turn the internet into a “tool for surveillance and control”, the European Parliament has voted for new legislation that will change the way EU copyright rules work. The new measures would require internet giants like Microsoft and Google to install filters: these would prevent users from uploading copyrighted material to their sites.

Warnings have come from some of the biggest names in the internet, as well as from civil liberties groups and campaigners. They say that the new law would damage freedom of expression, and at the same time, would entrench the power of leading companies onto European start-ups.

The plans are yet to be agreed by all the member states; opponents say they will continue to fight the legislation before all the MEP’s make the final vote. Green MEP Julia Reda who is leading the campaign, said: “I will challenge this outcome and request a vote in the European parliament next month. We can still overturn this result and preserve the free internet.”

The European Commission argues that the new laws are intended to protect authors, artists and journalists – making sure that they are “paid fairly” for their work. However, critics are concerned that by limiting the ability to share content online, it would damage freedom of expression as all users would need permission to use content.

Monique Goyens, the director general of the European Consumer Organisation, said: “The internet as we know it will change when platforms will need to systematically filter content that users want to upload. The internet will change from a place where consumers can enjoy sharing creations and ideas to an environment that is restricted and controlled.”

However, Cecilia Bonefeld-Dahl, director of Digital Europe noted that the “unworkable liability regime [for] content filtering will damage rather than aid the online and creative market. If the main ambition of the commission and parliament was to create a non-fragmented digital single market where innovation in the creative sector can flourish, then this result is a complete failure.”

Earlier in the month, 70 of the biggest names of the internet including Tim Berners-Lee and Jimmy Wales signed an open letter. The letter argues that the legislation would take ““an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users”. It also said: “The damage that this may do to the free and open internet as we know it is hard to predict, but in our opinions could be substantial.”


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