The “Mob” and Its Opposition to the European Union’s Copyright Directive

April 1, 2019

It has been 18 years since the European Union (EU) developed an EU-wide copyright law platform. Following implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in 2018, EU lawmakers began working on new regulations within intellectual property. Of the 24 articles in its new copyright directive, Article 13 has caused the most controversy.

Article 13, in essence, is designed to hold large information service providers, like Google and YouTube accountable for preventing copyright infringement, ultimately in the name of protecting the copyrights of rightholders or content creators. The article itself states that “[i]nformation society service providers that store and provide to the public access to large amounts of works or other subject-matter uploaded by their users shall, in cooperation with rightholders, take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightholders for the use of their works or other subject-matter or to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders through the cooperation with the service providers.”

Ultimately if similar policies are adopted in the United States, copyright law may soon look very different than in the past and a “mob” may once again rise up.

Ultimately, internet platforms that host copyrighted content must engage in agreements with rightholders before allowing such material to be posted online. This cooperation celebrates more protections of copyright in favor of rightholders, but has many wondering if the regulation will hinder free access on the internet. Many believe this cooperative process between rightholders and content sharing platforms will take much more time for companies than current procedures and may not prove sustainable in the fast-paced world of the internet.

In February 2019, EU Commission leaders released a message denouncing those against the directive and calling them members of a “mob.” The Commission later had to release an apology for the post, noting that the “language and title were not appropriate.”

Many individuals, as a result, have come together to protest the directive both through petition and on the streets. Some internet platforms have even gone dark, including Wikipedia in some countries. culminating in a “Day of Action” on March 23, 2019. Numerous companies such as Google have also opposed the directive. Many companies view the article as requiring them to institute content filters to find and locate copyrighted material posted by non-rightholders, something that small businesses in content sharing would certainly not be able to do. Even large corporations such as Google would have to make major changes in order to adapt. YouTube, for example, would have to spend significant time and resources to check every uploaded video. New innovation in this space, such as YouTube’s “Content ID” platform, an artificial intelligence-based analyzer of copyrighted material, would be necessary to make implementation of Article 13 even slightly practical.

In contrast, Mary Honeyball, a British Labour Member of the European Parliament who supports Article 13, argues that the article does not demand “upload filters.” She asserts that the article only requires content platforms to either license or remove copyrighted material. While Article 13 may not explicitly require such filters, many believe they will be inevitable in order to enable compliance, and will involve significant changes in the directions of many companies. Despite the EU’s view, this process may not be so easy to implement and involves many uncertainties. Providing notice and takedown of the wrongful use of copyrighted material may then become a minimal part of copyright law. As front-loading of copyright law will becomes a necessity, preventative measures will be the name of the game.

The European Parliament’s final approval vote hearing for the copyright directive will occur on March 26. That day, copyright law could see a dramatic change in its effects upon companies and consumers. Ultimately, if similar policies are adopted in the United States, copyright law may soon look very different than in the past and a “mob” may once again rise up.

Ashle Page, 18 March 2019