Over these past few weeks we’ve heard from many people either lauding or complaining about the passage and impact of the EU’S Article 13. Is Article 13 the champion of artists and musicians or is it the bane of content creators, political commentators, satirists and music fans? If you follow the subject online, you will soon find that are so many contradictory responses to this one question. The problem, I think, is in the very question. There is something I think we are all missing in our arguments over Article 13. I am personally opposed to Article 13, but right or wrong, advisable or not, this new law will not destroy anything. Rather, it will force us to adapt to the new environment. And adapting is what the human race is so skilled in doing.
Under Article 13, passed by the European Parliament, platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are legally required to proactively block any copyright infringing material. No longer are platforms permitted to wait until somebody complains, somebody flags or somebody submits a notice of infringement. Up until now platforms have enjoyed a “safe harbor” that assured that they, the platform, would not be legally liable for the actions of their users. Platforms were expected to do all they can to prevent infringement but when their efforts fell short, they were not liable. That allowed platforms to actively solicit materials from content creators without much fear or concern.
The content creators were always liable for the content they upload, but YouTube or Facebook were not. With the passage of Article 13, the EU imposed liability on the platforms. Going forward, online will face liability whenever infringing material is found to have made their way through whatever automated screening they deploy.
Now no doubt this will present a major shift in our online world. Many would agree that the impetus for the rapid growth of online content has been the legal immunity born by these platforms. Platforms that don’t face liability for users’ content, are more likely to allow unfettered expression by their users. How will this now change? Will YouTube shutdown any user who uploads cover music? Will platforms no longer allow the streaming of music with complicated copyright structure? Will Twitter ban MEMEs because of the questionable status of their copyright? Will Facebook takedown satirical pieces because of an inability to clearly determine status under fair use?
No one can give you straight answers to these questions. We all like to believe that we know what the future will bring but the truth is that every time something new is attempted, every time the status quo is challenged, every time opposition wins in their efforts to overturn what many may feel is successful, we all face the unknown.
So I’m not going to pretend to know what’s coming down the pipeline. I’m not going to tell you how the Internet will be destroyed. I’m not going to pretend to know what actually will happen. But I will tell you one thing that I know for sure. One thing that is uncontroverted.
We will manage to change. We will learn how to work within these new rules. We will learn to express ourselves in new ways under the umbrella of new restrictions. And none of the changes, and I repeat none of these changes, will stop any single individual from expressing an opinion. Yes, the rules will change and in the process some comments will be taken down, some videos will be removed, some pictures will be blocked and some MEMEs will be censored. But don’t think for one second that that will be the end of our story.
The truth is we don’t have to like the changes. We don’t have to appreciate any single regulation. We don’t have to support rules that are contrary to our values; but we are obligated to continuously demand the right of self-expression and speech. A bad law might make it a challenge to express yourself. It might force you to explore new ways sharing your message; but only you can censor your own speech. So … don’t do it!