A recent decision by the European Parliament approving a new copyright law could have major implications for online user generated content and may even ‘destroy the internet as we know it’ according to user groups.

The changes to the EU Copyright Directive were recently voted in by MEP’s in Strasbourg. The vote has added additional clauses to the existing legislation, namely Articles 11 and 13, dubbed by independent commentators as the ‘link tax’ and ‘upload filter’. The legislation has been updated to bring EU copyright law up to date and fit for purpose for the internet age, and as is so often the case with such changes, its impact is likely to be far greater than originally intended. The decision will now be presented to the 28 EU countries before finalising the detail in law.

The new laws will allow companies to make wide ranging and all-encompassing blocking action of user generated content such as animated GIF’s, or internet memes that use copyrighted content, typically images, videos or written content. The rules will give far more power to copyright owners of such content, from social media platforms through to news organisations and record labels. The legislation will also place the responsibility of screening such content on to the website publishers and platforms themselves, meaning that popular social media companies such as Facebook and YouTube would need to scan and check all uploaded content for potential copyright infringement – a gargantuan task.

Many mainstream media businesses have welcomed the proposed new laws, as it is likely that search engines and websites quoting such sources will be subject to a licence fee for use of the content. However, it could mean the end of popular user generated content from individual’s including music mixes, animated GIF’s and other re-purposed creative content.

The scope of these changes has galvanised response from a wide range of internet technology influencers and decision makers. 70 such individuals, including the ‘inventor of the internet’ Sir Tim Berners-Lee, have written an open letter to the President of the European

Parliament objecting to the implementation of the new rules:

"We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online…but we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks.'

The letter continues:

“(Article 13)..takes an unprecedented step towards the transformation of the Internet from an open platform for sharing and innovation, into a tool for the automated surveillance and control of its users… Article 13 effectively deputizes social media and other Internet companies as copyright police, forcing them to implement a highly invasive surveillance infrastructure across their entire service offerings…aside from the harm from the provisions of Article 13, this infrastructure can be easily repurposed by government and corporations – and further entrenches ubiquitous surveillance into the fabric of the Internet.”

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