If you’re an internet user in Europe, you may have heard of Article 13.
It’s a controversial new law passed by the European Union Parliament on the 26th May, 2019 that aims to fight the unsolicited sharing of copyrighted content on the internet.
Intended to protect the creative rights of artists, there are fears by many creators that it could achieve the opposite effect. It is thought to impact many internet users – for some positively, and for other negatively.
So what exactly is Article 13? And more importantly, is it going to affect you in any way?
Part of a series of copyright directives aimed at the digital single market, Article 13 aims to stop internet users sharing copyrighted content without permission. It will now be the responsibility of content platforms to filter out any copyrighted content that is uploaded online by EU-based users.
This content includes a variety of different mediums including music, TV and film clips, video game footage, images and text from published works. Any content that uses such material without permission could be blocked or removed. A few types of content that could be affected by Article 13 include:
- ‘Let’s Play’ gameplay videos
- Reaction videos
- Music covers/remixes
- Blog posts/magazine articles containing copyrighted images/text
Article 13 was passed alongside another controversial law Article 11, which has been dubbed ‘link tax’. This could involve content creators being charged for using hyperlinks leading to news publications. Much of the opposition has been aimed at both of these articles.
A number of other future articles are being discussed and could result in further alterations to the way content is shared online. These articles will only apply to EU countries – whilst the impact is likely to be felt on the internet worldwide, it is citizens of EU counties who will see the biggest changes.
How Article 13 works
Article 13 will require content platforms such as YouTube, Twitch and Facebook to set up filters for blocking copyrighted content in EU countries. ‘Upload filters’ are believed to be the most effective means of this, blocking content before it has a chance to be published.
Platforms that fail to introduce these measures could be fined heavily. Certain platforms are exempt from having to introduce such measures – largely smaller platforms or ones that are non-profit. These include:
- Start-ups with less than three years of activity, less than 10 million Euros revenue and less than 5 million average monthly users.
- Non-profit encyclopedias like Wikipedia.
- Cloud services for private use such as DropBox.
- Open-source software developing platforms like GitHub.
- E-commerce sites that sell physical products.
Whilst this does exclude a lot of platforms, there are still concerns that many platforms that are ill-equipped will be included. Other platforms which actively benefit creators such as Patreon will also be affected.
Too much work for content platforms?
On large content platforms, such work is thought to be too much work for human moderators and as a result the process would likely have to be automated. Already the likes of YouTube are using automation to filter out content. However, this current automation process is unreliable – occasionally blocking content that isn’t copyrighted and even sometimes blocking content that creators have paid royalties to use.
Upload filters would not just require immense work to fine-tune and implement, they would also require a large amount of funding. It is believed that some content platforms simply won’t be able to introduce measures. This may leave some content platforms no choice – they may have to simply block all content from being uploaded in certain countries.
Some websites already made this decision when GDPR regulations came in, blocking entire countries from visiting their site. Content platforms may not have to go to such extremes with Article 13, but it won’t be much better – you may still be able to visit these websites, but you won’t be able to upload content.
It’s highly unlikely the likes of YouTube will come to this decision due to the sheer amount of revenue they make from European uploaders, however smaller content platforms may have no choice but to pull the plug on European uploads. A great number of European sites – of whose main source of traffic is from EU-based countries – may even have to close if they are unable to meet demands.
What Article 13 means
Article 13 means big changes for a lot of internet users. Many people are expected to benefit from it, but it could also put many people’s livelihoods in danger.
Good news for the music industry – but mainly just publishers
The biggest group to benefit from Article 13 are music publishers and musicians (but mainly music publishers). Many publishers have long been campaigning for stricter laws concerning copyrighted material online. This is hardly surprising considering that music publishers are the ones in charge of collecting royalties and making copyright claims (not to mention, 30% of musicians’ royalties go to the music publishers themselves).
Some larger musicians may also benefit, as it could help them to earn more in royalties. However, many musicians that use samples or do covers may be negatively affected – if upload filters are automated, there are concerns that they may filter out remixes and covers, even if those artists got permission to use the sampled content or write a cover.
Bad news for many Youtubers
A lot of YouTube content is likely to be blocked. Some of the biggest channels on YouTube primarily consist of ‘Let’s Play’ gameplay footage, which in many cases will be counted as copyright infringement. Already, YouTube has taken action against a lot of this content – however, Article 13 could prevent EU-based uploaders from publishing this content entirely.
Reaction videos, fan videos and reviews of music, film and TV that also use copyrighted content may also violate copyright terms and conditions and be blocked. This also makes up a large chunk of YouTube and Twitch’s most popular content.
Many Youtubers have formed careers uploading this type of content. Even in cases where only snippets of copyrighted content are used or where content is clearly promotional (and therefore beneficial to the artists), it is likely it will still be blocked for not meeting the law. Unless these Youtubers are able to adapt their content (which could mean changing their entire audience demographic), they may not be able to continue making videos.
No more memes?
Article 13 has been regularly nicknamed the ‘meme ban’, because it could kill off internet memes. Most memes tend to be captioned and edited photos, many of which are copyrighted. Even if it could be argued that this content is clearly parody, automated upload filters are likely to block this content regardless of its intention.
Memes are now embraced across the internet by businesses, organisations and everyday internet users. Censoring the sharing of memes may involve disabling social media gifs and possibly even having to put in place rigorous image upload filters. It could kill off satirical Facebook pages and meme-sharing sites that are based in Europe.
There are also questions as to what to do with discussion boards found on commercial sites – some of these discussion boards may have to be removed, but yet some are so large (such as Heise.de) that removing this discussion board could have a negative impact on many internet users.
Will Article 13 happen?
Article 13 has already been passed as a directive. Of the MEPs making up the European Parliament, 348 – 274 voted in favour.
However, the countries comprising the EU must still accept Article 13 as a law. Each country is allowed to reject or amend a directive if they see fit. Already, certain countries such as Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands have rejected Article 13. It is possible that other countries will reject it and it is even possible that all countries will reject it.
However, this is unlikely to be the case. Many countries, including the UK, supported Article 13 and it seems likely that the MEPs that pushed it forward will continue to push for legislation. Countries aren’t expected to pass these laws until 2021 – only then will we truly see the full impact.
Of course, there could still be other obstacles. Content platforms may refuse to abide by these laws if they feel it is too much demand. Public backlash from everyday citizens meanwhile may be enough to convince Article 13 supporters in power to change their mind, preventing the directive from being made a law in certain countries.
Will content platforms abide?
YouTube has already been implementing tougher rules regarding copyrighted material, not just for EU users but for users across the world. However, as their https://www.youtube.com/saveyourinternet/ shows, they are not supporters of Article 13, considering it to be impossible to implement and maintain. They have stated that they will try to still carry out upload filters in countries that choose to make it a legal requirement, but they are urging EU citizens to protest against it. In other words, they will likely abide, but they don’t want to.
Other large platforms have also been vocal. Despite not being affected by Article 13 due to being a non-profit platform, Wikipedia has been very much against the directive and even turned off all of its European pages for a day out of protest. Google (which owns YouTube) has also spoken out against it in various statements. Facebook and Twitter have remained fairly silent.
Most likely, larger platforms will abide – to not do so could result in huge fines and even though it will cost them a lot to implement upload filters, it may still be less than any penalty. It is smaller platforms will likely suffer as they will not be able to afford to put in place these filters. Such platforms will likely either have to face the fines or block European uploaders altogether.
Could public backlash be enough to stop Article 13?
There has been no shortage of backlash from the general public. Already, there have been huge protests in the streets of Berlin and Brussels. Companies of all kinds have been lobbying governments on the matter. #SaveYourInternet has meanwhile been a trending hashtag on Twitter in reaction to the law with many online petitions being set up.
If enough people speak up, it’s possible that Article 13 could be undone – or at the very least individual countries will reject it. However, it will take a lot of fervent protesting before national governments or indeed the EU parliament take any notice.
Will Article 13 affect the UK?
Article 13 only applies to countries within the EU. The UK is currently in the EU – but is in the process of leaving. So, will Brexit mean no Article 13?
Currently, it is too early to say what the outcome will be as both Article 13 and Brexit are still in the long process of being rolled out. The UK may leave the EU before Article 13 has a chance to take any effect, but it’s also possible that Article 13 may become law before the UK has left. Brexit is expected to have a long transition period and trade laws are the biggest priority.
The current PM Boris Johnson has spoken out against Article 13, however other UK MPs have expressed support for it. It is uncertain whether the UK will continue the law or scrap it even if it leaves the European Union.
When Article 13 starts
Once individual EU countries agree to pass Article 13, content platforms will be forced to introduce upload filters or be fined. Content creators in these countries will then no longer be able to upload copyrighted content. If content platforms choose to block all EU uploaders, it’s possible that content creators may not be able to upload anything at all.
For some content creators, this may just be the end of a hobby. For others, it could be the end of their livelihood. Either way, Article 13 is likely to have devastating results for many online content creators…
But is there a way to get around Article 13?
It may not all be doom and gloom for those creating content online. Even if Article 13 is passed as a law in your country, there may still be ways to get around it.
There are really only three ways in which this is likely to be possible. These methods are:
- Use original content: This may be a simple and obvious solution for some copyright creators. Already, creators have been hand-drawing memes out of protest. This option however may not work for all types of content – if you make money creating gameplay videos, there’s no way you can use original content without building your own video game.
- Move abroad: This approach is slightly drastic and unlikely to be a consideration unless you have a serious career in content creation that is about to jeopardised by Article 13. By moving to an non-EU country, you’ll be able to continue the freedoms of sharing all content. However, there’s a much less extreme option that can achieve the same result…
- Use a VPN: Many content creators may be able to bypass Article 13 with a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN allows you to change your apparent location online. This could possibly allow you to get around content platform upload filters – by changing your location to a non-EU country, the site will not treat you as an EU internet user and you will be able to upload content freely.
So, is a VPN the solution?
VPNs are definitely the most convenient way of getting around Article 13. A VPN will give you ultimate creative freedom without having to physically relocate. Already many content creators and internet users have started taking advantage of this technology – and more are expected to turn to it as the impact of Article 13 unfolds.
Along with allowing you to upload content freely after Article 13, a VPN could have other benefits.
- By concealing your IP address, you can protect your privacy and stay more secure against internet users that may try to steal or use your data for malicious purposes. Many people use VPNs for this sole purpose.
- VPNs can be used to take advantage of local rates, which could help you to save costs on items like flight tickets and rental services.
- You may be able to access content such as streamable TV shows or local news guides that are only available to users in other countries.
All in all, not only could you bypass Article 13 with a VPN, but you could also gain access to other benefits and freedoms when using the internet. VPNs aren’t expensive and they’re a lot easier to use than people assume. Already, many internet users are investing in this technology simply as a precaution – Article 13 may not affect you, but given the uncertainty, a VPN is worth looking into anyway.