If you’ve spent any time online over the last few months, you may have seen articles talking about something called Article 13.
Article 13 is part of the ‘European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market’ often shortened to simply ‘The EU Copyright Directive’. This directive aims to adjust copyright law to bring it up to date in light of new technology, and how easily media is shared online so to better protect copyright holders from having their work monetized illegally by third parties.
Article 13 of this directive is the most contentious part, and has sparked a great deal of heated debate and worried reactions from the likes of YouTube and Google. Article 13 essentially makes services like YouTube liable for copyrighted content that is uploaded and hosted on their service by their users. This means that, for example, if a third-party user were to upload a video which contains copyrighted music to YouTube’s service, YouTube would be held responsible for that user’s actions, and the rightsholder of the music would have legal grounds to sue YouTube for breaking copyright law.
YouTube currently has a system called Content ID which automatically scans content that has been uploaded for copyrighted material and flags the video if it finds anything, however this software bot is far from perfect – it has issues with false-positive results, and can be tricked into allowing copyrighted material through. The quantity of material uploaded to YouTube (said to be somewhere around 400 hours of content uploads every single minute!) means that human oversight of the process simply isn’t practical.
YouTube and Google’s response to this has been alarming to say the least – They claim that this directive presents an unacceptable level of financial risk, so to comply with the directive they would have to block anyone in Europe (except very large corporates who they can trust) from uploading content to their platform, effectively gating off their service from average users.
Critics of YouTube claim that the content host has been using hyperbolic scare tactics to drum up support for its cause, while critics of Article 13 claim that while it protects copyright holders, this is at the expense of freedom of expression and of a free and open internet.
Interestingly, both camps seem to agree that copyright law as it currently stands is not fit for purpose in the digital age and that something has to change so that it can serviceably protect copyright holders while allowing for freedom of expression.
The EU Copyright Directive was originally proposed in 2016, and key votes on clarifying the wording and implementation of the document took place at the end of 2018 and in January 2019. One of the biggest criticisms of the directive is that its broad and loosely-worded nature means that it is dangerously open to exploitation by litigious corporates. The most recent iteration of the document adds several clarifying statements to say that content hosting platforms must make ‘best efforts’ to ensure that copyrights are not infringed on their system, which appears to be an improvement, however there are still unaddressed criticisms over the vague nature of other elements of the directive.
A final vote in the European Parliament on the implementation of the directive is due to take place in the next few weeks. Only time will tell how YouTube and Google ultimately respond to this, and whether the proposed changes will be enough to satisfy copyright holders without infringing on the creativity of independent content creators.