If you happen to spend most of your life surfing websites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch, you may have already seen the term “Article 13” many times since last September. Many Internet content creators, especially those active on YouTube, have already made hundreds of videos explaining the “hazardous” effects and outcomes of this legislation on copyright infringement, claiming that it would likely to “kill” YouTube, memes culture, creativity, and even freedom of speech. So, what is “Article 13” anyways? Why are the Internet influencers and content creators so worried about it and desperately call for the fellow Internet community to protest? Are we, as the general users of these websites, really doomed according to those opinion leaders? While the campaign against Article 13 is ongoing, this article tries to make sense of the whole situation by listing four things that you need to know.
Article 13 is about dealing with copyright infringement.
Compared to the rest of the world, the European Union seems to have a more ruthless legal system monitoring issues regarding copyrights. Under the “Digital Single Market (DSM) project,” all EU member states need to follow the same laws on telecommunication, digital marketing, and e-commerce, in order to be harmonized and more efficiently serving the EU as a community. As the European Commission website explains, the DSM project has helped bringing down many barriers to ensure the “fair competition, consumer and data protection, and removing geo-blocking and copyright issues.” It is under this backdrop that the EU Copyright Directives which contains the notorious Article 13, has become a focal point for many EU Internet users for its potentially enormous influence on people’s daily activities on the Internet.
Simply put, Article 13 belongs to the larger proposal of the EU Copyright Directives, which the European lawmakers have voted for a version in September 2018, and passed the final texts in February 2019. Article 13 requires Internet companies and content operator platforms (such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and other sharing sites supporting and disseminating user-generated content) to tighten their copyright supervision by regulating the mass sharing of copyrighted materials. For example, suppose an Instagram account named “whales_collection” has been collecting other photographers’ photos of whales and posting them on its page with the “credit” listed in the caption; however, under Article 13, the administrator of “whale_collection” is now infringed every copyrighted author featured on its regardless that the credit has been marked. Moreover, it is Instagram that is liable for the user’s action of piracy. And for video game streamers, the strike of Article 13 could be devastating as they must use the copyrighted footage from video games to do streaming and consequently, make money. Yet, with the implementation of Article 13, it is likely that the streaming videos will directly become cases of copyright infringement.
The Internet giants are not happy about it.
Though content creators on the Internet have shown their dissatisfaction with Article 13, the platforms hosting these creative works are even more distressed about it. For one thing, platforms like YouTube and Twitch are now the ones held accountable for discovering their users’ copyright infringements, which not only leads to further censorship and blocking of content, but also means they will pay for the users’ illegal deeds; for another, if the platforms cannot come up with decent solutions to keep their users feel protected and free, it is likely that the frustrated users would choose to leave the platform and find alternatives to post and watch contents. With remarkable number of users on these websites, the potential consequences for them means losing subscription and revenues. That is why the CEO of YouTube, Susan Wojcicki, made a post in November 2018, addressing the effects of Article 13, and the website has also established a special page with the hashtag #saveyourinternet to keep users up-to-date with the legislating process. The latest update was posted on March 4, 2019, answering top questions and suggesting users to take actions by popularizing the crisis and reaching out to Members of Parliament. Similarly, Twitch has published a blog post addressing Article 13’s potential harm to the content creators and tell them that “it’s not too late to take actions.”
Smaller platforms and content operators face more challenges.
Protecting copyrights is nothing new for the online business world. For many Internet moguls, they have used some strategies and services to protect creators’ rights to abide by copyright laws. The notorious example is YouTube’s usage of Content ID, which is a digital fingerprinting system developed by Google to help identify and manage copyrighted content. Although it has been criticized by YouTubers for its lack of accuracy in targeting and attesting copyright infringements, it was still a strong proof showcasing the company’s keen awareness and protection of copyrights for its users. If Article 13 eventually passes and be applied to the EU member states, it only means that YouTube and the like may need to spend more money and resources in installing and perfecting its upload filters. Nevertheless, for middle or small-sized websites featuring user-generated content or providing sharing services, the impairment brought by Article 13 would be more devastating, since they may not have enough money, staff, and the infrastructure comparable to the larger sites to monitor the copyright infringements. As a result, they may also face greater probability of being punished and fined.
The somewhat good news at this point for people on the opposing side of Article 13 is that even though the content of the Copyright Directive was finalized in February of this year, it still needs to go through a final vote. However, looking at the calendar, we are already in the end of March heading towards April—the time is quickly running out.
But even if Article 13 were passed, it’s not the end of the world
Amongst the prevailing criticism and opposition to Article 13 led by Internet giants and opinion leaders, it needs to be stressed that it is not harmful if you are the copyright owner. Because if you are, you are getting paid when other people use, or even refer to, your content in their creations. Thus, this new legislation could be beneficial for authors, artists, and small music labels, who used to be highly susceptible to copyright infringements. In addition, there are voices supporting Article 13 by pinpointing that the fuss around the legislation is mostly exaggeration and is largely the Internet giants’ strategies to disturb the market and stifle the Internet users in order to gain support from the public discourse and to protect their own benefits.
As April approaches, perhaps it is also time for Internet companies, especially the middle and small-sized ones, to consider the possibility and strategies to live with the intensified copyright laws in EU. Basically, what these companies need to do to follow the requirements of Article 13 is to construct more efficient content filters with the awareness of copyright protection. Luckily, there are companies that use mature algorithm and content recognition cloud services to help ease the pressure of catching piracy activities on Internet platforms.
Take the services like Audible Magic and ACRCloud as examples, they are mastering in many telecommunication services such as automatic content recognition, audio fingerprinting, content filtering, and copyright compliance, etc. With a large and well-established database and global business experience, their technologies and expertise come as a handy solution to crack a lot of hassles for Internet content operators that dealing with numerous user-generated content. By collecting and running audio, video, and recording sources through its comprehensive fingerprint database, both services collect the results and reports to the clients about the copyright infringements. Moreover, ACRCloud has been working with many transnational corporations with user-generated content such as Record Union, , Audiomack, Routenote and Coub, to help them save manpower costs and respond to their needs in near real-time. It seems that for Internet companies and content operators, this is something that is urgently needed if the Article 13 eventually—and is very likely—passes.