How Canadians could get caught up in the EU's proposed copyright law

Digital rights activists, including Cory Doctorow, are speaking out against the European Union's proposed new digital copyright law.

'It's not malice. It's depraved indifference,' says Boing Boing editor Cory Doctorow

A picture illustration shows a screen with a YouTube copyright message regarding a video. (Dado Ruvic/Reuters)
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Technology reporter Cory Doctorow says Canadians should be concerned about an expansive new copyright policy that could soon be adopted in Europe. 

This policy, under Article 13, would ensure that any copyrighted content — audio, video, images, text, code, etc. — couldn't be uploaded or shared without the proper permissions. European Parliament will vote on the new law on June 20.

Proponents describe it as a method of protecting rights-holders in an age where user-generated content regularly features or samples the work of others, typically without compensation.

Doctorow has been writing about Article 13 and how it will "break the internet" on BoingBoing, the news site he co-edits. He spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about why he's advocating against the policy — and how it could affect Canadians.

Here is part of their conversation.

Cory, why should any of us be worried about this Article 13?

Well, if you're European you should be especially worried.

If you're Canadian, unless you want to only ever use American and Canadian services, then this should worry you too. 

Digital rights advocates say memes like this, featuring copyrighted material, could no longer be posted or shared in Europe if the copyright policy is passed. (Meme Generator)

Give us some examples of things that we would not be able to do if we find ourselves suddenly caught up in this Article 13?

An unintended consequence might be something like joining a European dating service, some future equivalent of Tinder, and having your Tinder profile taken down because you're wearing a band T-shirt that has a copyrighted photo on it.

The malicious consequences would be something like in the run-up to a debate over, say, Greece leaving the European Union or a new Catalan independence referendum, someone might maliciously upload Wikipedia articles or other key news articles to Wordpress or other large blogging platforms so that you couldn't write about them.

Every time you try to quote those articles, it would show up as having been copyrighted and not something that you're allowed to quote from. 

It's not malice, it's depraved indifference.- Cory Doctorow, blogger and digital rights advocate

What's the purpose of Article 13? 

This is about giving a loophole-free tool to German newspaper publishers to get paid by Google, and the fact that it has to be loophole-free or they think Google will jump through the loophole means that they have to catch a lot of dolphins in their tuna net.

I think that it's not that they want to censor all the rest of the internet. I think that just in their quest to get Google and Facebook and a couple other big American companies to share their spoils, they're willing to sacrifice everything else.

It's not malice, it's depraved indifference.

How is it that there aren't people within the EU who are pointing this out as creating such a big net and catching just about everybody in it?

If you look at the European digital rights groups, they're all working on this. It's just they're working from a standing start because no one thought that an idea this daft would get this far along. 

Google and Facebook and Twitter and the other big American companies — they'll figure out how to get licenses. They will peel off some of their margin and hand it to some rights-holder groups and there will be a kind of equilibrium.

But what you're not going to get are new platforms. So if you wanted to start a European alternative to Google, they're going to have a much harder time complying.

Google's copyright filter that they built just for the audio tracks of video cost $60 million, and so building one of these for all potential copyrighted works from software up, that's going to be something that would be beyond the means of anyone trying to start a new business.

It means that if you ever find yourself in disfavour with one of the big platforms, if you want to say something they don't want you to say, then you might find yourself with no platform to use.

Journalist Cory Doctorow has been arguing against the proposed policy. (Submitted by Cory Doctorow/Alex Schoenfeldt Photography)

And the patrol will be done by bots, right? 

This is about mass-automated copyright enforcement.

That's the argument that the rights-holders given — looking at something to decide whether or not it's a copyright enforcement is too much work, and so instead we should just use bots and if we catch some non-copyright in with our copyright, well that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

I wrote a novel called Homeland and Fox has a TV show called Homeland, and my novel gets taken down by Fox all the time, even though it's published by Macmillan — one of the largest publishers in the world. 

Fox is much larger and their bots are more aggressive and it's much easier to take something down than to get it put back up again. 

Any sense of how European parliamentarians might vote?

It is poised on a knife's edge. If everyone votes the way their party whips have said they will, the motion will carry by one vote. So it's really anybody's game. 

We really could win this. And we really, really could lose it, and that would be bad news for everyone.

Written and produced by Emilie Quesnel.

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