Copyright Reform in the EU

How this Potential Change in the Internet Sharing Culture Could Affect International IP

The Internet is a transnational marketplace of ideas that exists to meet a multitude of demands, one of which is content sharing. At the helm of innovation sits content sharing, information dissemination, and the ever-important free flow of ideas from one person to another. Every Internet user is a part of that marketplace, whether one is a consumer or producer, and although many people believe that the Internet is a free space in which, magically, there is no need to pay anyone for anything, that is often not the case. Now imagine a college student, Alicia, passionate about international politics, decides to write a satirical article about the political atmosphere abroad. In that article, Alicia uses media excerpts from The European Voice, Prague Monitor, and The Munich Eye. Unfortunately for Alicia, this satirical piece, a piece of artistry and intelligence, violates the European Union’s new sweeping copyright law, which was quietly, but fervently passed with the intention of reigning in American tech giants that have so thoroughly angered the EU (along with everyone else, but that’s an article for another day).  Alicia, like many other people across the world, was completely unaware of these sweeping changes occurring in the European Union regarding information sharing and she is now receiving foreign legal notices that are impossible to understand. Because these publications have adequate IP representation, this young, bright student’s work has not only been destroyed, but she will be forced to pay reparations.

Although this is a hypothetical case, it is far from fiction and the thought that a packet of legislation with this much power to change the Internet sharing culture, personally, makes my knees weak. Fast forward to today, nearly a month after the European Union rejected the packet of legislation that would force websites, apps, and all media-sharing sources to utilize screening mechanisms, as well as the inception of a “link tax”. This “tax” would require online services to pay news publications for using their content and if improperly “bought and paid for”, could result in artistic and intellectual work like Alicia’s to be eradicated from the Internet, minimizing the voices of individuals who are simply expressing their opinions creatively[1]. As a media consumer, this is quite the terrifying prospect- a complicated packet of legislation that unknowingly affects people across the world. The European Union wants U.S Internet giants (Facebook, YouTube, Google, etc.) to pay for their content. It’s plain, it’s simple, yet the legal affairs committee of the European Parliament is operating under the guise that they are interested in protecting the rights of, well, rights holders, but what they are failing to recognize is that pushing for this legislation, these expensive screening mechanisms, and doing so very quietly, could have a major impact on how individuals disseminate information across the Internet.

Now, where did this legislation begin? When did the European Union finally decide to subversively attack tech giants, not really caring that the impact of these potential laws would create a vice-like grip on the Internet community, effectively laying the groundwork for a proverbial web Gestapo? Well, while everyone in the United States was consumed with Justin Bieber, Chelsea Clinton’s wedding, and Lebron’s decision to take his talents to Miami! In 2010, a Hamburg state court decided a copyright case that would quietly create a legal tornado, one that could effectively change the way in which media of all kinds is shared on the Internet. In 2008, a YouTube user uploaded copyrighted material that belonged to German music producer Frank Peterson and YouTube deleted said copyrighted recordings, yet they continued to be available on the media-sharing site. Peterson claimed that YouTube was responsible for the violation, and of course, YouTube denied, as their status was a media-sharing site on which user-generated content was posted. However, the court system of Hamburg, Germany claimed that YouTube’s status is no longer one of service provider, as their large contracts with Universal and Sony afford them the opportunity to create original, branded content. Therefore, they were responsible for controlling the content on their sites, and if not properly policed, would now be liable for users’ infringement[2].

This changed the way that media-sharing platforms were treated legally and sparked a heated debate amongst legislators in the European Union. From this small, unassuming German copyright case came legislation that would not only target large tech companies, but innovators who want to create apps that allow for easier information and media sharing, students who want to create a blog about what is happening in the world, and even individuals like my mother, who scours international news and shares interesting findings on her social media sites. Thus, the underlying sentiments are twofold: the European Union believes U.S tech giants should pay for content created under their jurisdiction, but the proposed legislation to punish those giants would also punish individuals via enhanced screening mechanisms, truncating the flow of ideas and really pissing off people who simply want to express their opinions on a social media platform[3].

            Although the EU rejected this proposed packet of legislation, it is still a topic of conversation amongst lawmakers and is said to be continuously revisited, constantly looming on the desks of legislators across Europe. Now, consider this: The United States followed suit with the rest of the world (namely, the European Union) in terms of patent law, changing the standard from first to invent to first to file. In good faith, we harmonized with the rest of the world. What if that were to happen with this copyright legislation, if a coalition of Representatives formed, intent upon making the Internet a “safer” place for publishers, in an effort to “protect” their IP rights as is occurring in the European Union? This not only is a possibility, but when looking at patent law precedent, it is a probability.

If you are a publisher, this news is comforting, encouraging, and would allow for the most stringent of IP protections, and incidentally, revenue. If you are a media creator, you are welcoming this potential watchdog era!

            If you are anyone else, think: How often do you see information taken from European Voice, The Independent, and Politico? In the digital age, we are digital consumers, flooded with information of which we are not always sure of its origin. With the attention drawn to this packet of legislation, publishers, regardless of if this legislation is passed in the future, will be looking to adequately and aggressively protect their media. Therefore, if you use information found on the Internet, a place which once seemed like a space for free exchange of information, this is not good. If you have any intention of creating an app that uses any media that is not your own, this is expensive, as you will be held accountable for users’ copyright indiscretions and will be needing screening technology that ensures the safety of the material shared. Finally, if you are ignorant to the ever-changing legal sphere of the Internet, this is bad.

Sperry IP as a firm would recommend that all publications, domestic or foreign, should have proper IP representation in the event that international or domestic laws change. As an individual who consumes and uses such publications for their own work, make sure that you are aware of the current laws surrounding media-sharing platforms, as you could be inadvertently breaking those laws like our friend Alicia.  

[1] Finley, Klint. Europe’s Proposed Copyright Law Could Screw Up the Whole Internet. WIRED. 20 June 2018. Web.

[2] German Copyright Case Could Change the Rules for Tech Giants. Bloomberg News. The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. 22 June 2018. Web.

[3] Bialek, Catrin and Till Hoppe. EU Copyright Decision Could Change the Internet’s Sharing Culture. Handlesblatt GmbH. 20 June 2018. Web.

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