Westminster has confirmed that the UK will not implement Article 13 after leaving the European Union – what does that mean for online copyright law in the UK?
If we were to travel back to 2019, during our time on the European Council, then you’d see Britain voting in favour of passing the EU Copyright Directive. Come back to the present, however, and our stance has drastically changed.
The directive – described as “terrible for the internet”, and highly criticised by the likes of Google and YouTube – seemingly won’t find support in Britain, with Chris Skidmore, Universities and Science Minister, recently revealing that the UK won’t implement the law after we leave the EU.
But what does the law entail, and why is Great Britain – and so many other parties – against its implementation?
What is Article 13?
The EU Copyright Directive – the bloc’s first amendment to copyright-related law since 2001 – represents an attempt at creating copyright laws that are supposedly “fit for the digital era”. The majority of the law passed the public by without ruffling too many feathers, with the grand exception of the ominously named ‘Article 13’.
Article 13 takes spectacular aim at social media platforms such as YouTube, Soundcloud, and Facebook, that rely on user-generated content, stating that the host sites are responsible for any copyrighted content that users upload. Article 13 states that these websites/apps must license copyright-protected material from the correct rights holders, or be held liable, and it’s safe to say that this caused plenty of controversy.
What’s the Big Deal?
The criticisms around Article 13 stem from sites having to answer for content uploaded by users – the real content creators behind the popularity of these platforms. Many social media and content-sharing platforms already moderate their content to varying degrees of success, but Article 13 would heap more pressure on moderators to spot copyrighted content at lightning fast speeds.
This is where intelligent algorithms come in, moderating faster than a human workforce. The problem, however, is that they’re not cheap. YouTube already has a “Content ID” system for seeking out copyrighted content, but its sophisticated algorithm is still far from perfect.
Legitimate videos are often flagged unnecessarily, much to the annoyance of content creators. On top of all that, YouTube’s moderating algorithms already have an expensive price tag attached, and while the video-platform’s parent company Alphabet can afford to foot the bill, can start-ups do the same?
While much has been said about Article 13 potentially decimating parody and commentary content, ushering in more censorship, and also causing the death of memes, it really exists to protect the intellectual property of creators. In a world where content can so easily be stolen and shared online with little consequence, putting more onus on social media and content-sharing platforms to enforce copyright law could serve as an effective deterrent.
A Bumpy Road
Technology is advancing faster than lawmakers can keep up, and it’s understandable that there’d be a few bumps along the way. Because the initial law proved unpopular, the EU added in a series of tweaks, where material could be used “for purposes of quotation, criticism, review, caricature, parody and pastiche”. In other words, your memes are safe.
Despite this, Google campaigned tooth and nail against the new law, stating it would “harm Europe’s creative and digital industries” and “change the web as we know it”. YouTube CEO Susan Wojciciki even stated that EU users could be cut off from the video platform entirely.
While Brexit continues to dominate headlines, one thing’s for sure: the EU Copyright Directive will not be absorbed into UK law – something we’re sure YouTube, Facebook, and countless other big tech companies are more than happy to hear. What it means for the rest of the EU, though, only time will tell.
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