Use It or Lose It

Prompted by weeks (months, really) of reading about it, and specifically by a tweet by journalist Glyn Moody, I just sent this email to all six of my MEPs using the handy forms at WriteToThem.

Dear Mr Smith/Mr Hudghton/Mr Martin/Ms Stihler/Lady Mobarik/Mr Coburn,

I’m writing to you as one of my 6 MEPs to ask you to support changes to the proposed EU directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market, which as it stands will have a major impact on how the Internet works in the EU and beyond. Scotland and the UK will be affected one way or another whatever happens with Brexit, but I fear that Brexit has overshadowed this development in most people’s minds.

I work at the University of Edinburgh on our Digital Education programme, and have been looking at issues surrounding online intellectual property for almost twenty years. I’m concerned that aspects of the EU copyright directive could damage the economic, creative and educational potential of the Internet and the Web. I’ve found the online commentary of UK journalist Glyn Moody and MEP Julia Reda particularly helpful on these issues.

Article 13 of the proposed directive will impose on popular sites like Twitter and Facebook an obligation to monitor all user uploads for copyright infringement, which will be impossible to implement without collateral damage. Automated online filtering is already notorious for producing false positives, yet there would be no practical way to implement mass upload filtering without automation. The potential for a chilling effect on online debate is great. I’m concerned that it will limit the scope for ordinary people to make their voices heard online, returning us to a time when only those published through official, vetted channels are heard.

Article 11, introducing an ancillary copyright for news publications, who will then be able to charge sites using news “snippets” or block them from doing so, promises to have a counterproductive effect on the visibility of news online, as we have already seen in Spain and Germany where such schemes have been attempted. In Spain, Google has shut down its Google News search completely, leading to sharp declines in traffic to Spanish newspaper sites. This is surely a particularly bad moment in history to be discouraging popular traffic to legitimate news sources.

Article 3, providing a copyright exception on Text and Data Mining, is welcome recognition for an important new research tool, but its narrow focus on “research organisations“ and ”scientific research” could cause difficulties for academic researchers working in non-scientific fields or outside a specific research organisation. It also excludes non-academic uses in far too broad a way, shutting off prospective commercial uses by the digital start-ups of the future.

I hope you will oppose Articles 11 and 13, and support amendments to Article 3 to grant a broader exemption for Text and Data Mining than it currently allows.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Rory Ewins

For additional context, see Julia Reda’s articles, an overview and blog post by Glyn Moody, and the proposed directive itself—the relevant articles aren’t particularly long.

I’ll be interested to see how the email is received by MEPs from the different parties representing Scotland: SNP, Labour, Conservative and UKIP. I’ll note what I hear back in the comments here.

If it passes as is, this directive will affect the UK whether we stay in the EU, leave with a deal, or leave with none, as it will determine what we can do and read on countless websites based in EU countries. If you’re in the UK, please consider writing a similar email or letter to your MEPs before 20 June. We need to use our voice in the European Parliament while we still have it.

14 June 2018 · Net Culture

I was pleased to get a detailed email response within hours from David Martin MEP, who shares some of my concerns. From his comments it sounds as if many MEPs are listening, and it isn’t a done deal yet. He mentioned that his fellow Labour MEP for Scotland Catherine Stihler is a member of the Internal Market Committee, and has been campaigning for changes to Article 13 in particular. Here’s hoping that their concern bodes well for the Plenary vote in the autumn, if not for the imminent Legal Affairs committee decision—although with any luck, public pressure over the next week will also influence that.

Added by Rory on 15 June 2018.

I heard yesterday from Alyn Smith (SNP), of the Green/EFA group, which has, he tells me, “adopted a firm position on both articles and we intend to vote accordingly on 20 June” in the Legal Affairs committee, for the removal of Articles 11 and 13. Good to hear. This morning his SNP colleague Ian Hudghton replied along similar lines, highlighting the work of Julia Reda, also a member of the Green/EFA group, in this area.

At least two-thirds of my MEPs are therefore opposed to one or both of these articles, which is heartening.

Added by Rory on 19 June 2018.

Damn it, the Legal Affairs committee passed Article 11 by 13 votes to 12, and Article 13 by 15 to 10. The battle now turns to the full parliamentary vote.



As an aside, it annoys me that The Guardian has headlined their article “EU votes for copyright law that would make internet a ’tool for control’”. They wouldn’t headline an article about a vote in a UK parliamentary committee as “UK votes for copyright law”, even if that committee vote made the ultimate adoption of the law more likely. It’s this sort of conflation of the entire EU with everything done anywhere in the EU system that helped Euroskeptics bring us Brexit.

Added by Rory on 20 June 2018.

In a dark day for the Internet, the Directive was adopted today by the European Parliament. The Parliament also voted against considering amendments, which prevented any opportunity to remove Article 11 and particularly Article 13.

MEPs Smith, Hudghton and Coburn voted in favour of considering amendments and against the unamended Directive. Martin and Mobarik voted against considering amendments and in favour of the Directive. Catherine Stihler stood down as MEP in January, which is a shame, as she has been a vocal opponent of Article 13 on Twitter.

Added by Rory on 26 March 2019.