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Estonian MEP Yana Toom: Article 13, or Internet copyright, is astonishingly dividing

  • 2019-02-08
  • Linas Jegelevicius

The contentious draft of Article 13, the so-called Internet copyright, has been stirring ripples across the aisles of the European Parliament, to a point where the issue divides MEPs of the same fraction and country. Its opponents claim it, if enacted, could subject the internet to a full censorship. its supporters say it's necessary to support creatives online which ostensibly suffer big time from copyright violations. “If you look at the voting results, it is obvious that everyone is split on the issue, both on the national and political lines,” Yana Toom, a Member of the European Parliament belonging to the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, underscored. As her parliamentary group’s coordinator on the EP Committee on Culture and Education, she has been involved in Article 13 debates in particular. The MEP kindly agreed to answer The Baltic Times questions about the battle in the European legislature.

Why do you find issue of Article 13 important to you as the europarliamentarian and the internet user?-

–Article 13 directly impacts every person who uses the internet. It mandates the use of upload-filters to ensure that anything which is shared on the internet is not infringing copyright. This will be done automatically, by algorithms, which cannot distinguish between legal and illegal use of works. This applies to pictures, too. Think for instance about memes as well as all the texts on the internet. If the content you are sharing contain copyrighted content which has not been licensed, then your content will be caught in the filter and the upload will subsequently be prevented. It will clearly interfere with the way information is shared online and the “instant” nature of the internet. If the content is stuck in the filter, then the user needs to contest that decision by appealing to human moderators. You certainly can imagine what a workload that will create.

Has the issue created a buzz on the EP floor? How much are your counterpart MEPs divided over this issue?

–The debate on copyright had taken an unfortunate turn during the last discussions in the EP. It became a discussion of “us against them”. “Us” are the ones who defend creators, and “them” who defend GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon). I can assure you that my colleagues who are fighting against Article 13 are not defending GAFA, in fact, they are the loudest voices when it comes to criticizing their business models, use of data and their monopoly position. But this has drawn the attention away from the actual substance. Everyone can agree that creators should be remunerated fairly for their work. But nothing in the text guarantees that it is them who will get paid. Instead, these will be the producers and press publishers, instead of musicians and journalists.

If you look at the voting outcomes, it is obvious that everyone is split on the issue, both on national and political lines. MEPs from the same country and the same political group can vote completely different.

What do you believe is the biggest bone of contention?

–It is the combination of Article 11 and 13. Article 11 will create an ancillary copyright for press publishers. This means that press publishers can demand from news aggregators like Google News to buy a license for the use of snippets. There is concern on how this will affect the private use of snippets, for instance when you share it on Facebook. The text seems to have an exception now, but then it needs to be noted that Member States all interpret “private” in a different way. If you have above a certain number of friends on Facebook, like I have, this is considered “public” in France. So it is unclear how this will be implemented.

In addition, this has been tried before in Spain. Google News simply closed down. You often hear that Google earns money from the use of snippets on Google News, which is not true - there is no advertising on Google News. Therefore, Google had no problem to shut down its news service and this had an impact on the revenue made by news websites. Now there was nobody anymore to redirect people to their pages.

Both these Articles are very problematic because they directly interfere with free speech and the right to information.

Could you give a quick update on the Copyright Directive up to now?

–The Copyright Directive has been proposed by the Commission in 2016. It was sent to the European Parliament for amendments. This was done in several Committees. Some had a better approach towards Articles 11 and 13, some had a worse approach. The main Committee, with Axel Voss, as Rapporteur, had a worse approach. Therefore, when the Voss Report was voted on the first time, it was rejected. After adding some artificial improvements, it was voted again and adopted. Voss went on to negotiate with Council during the so-called trialogues. This is when the Commission, Council and EP sit down and try to compromise. Several weeks ago, a trialogue got cancelled because the Council could not agree on its position and 11 Member States voted against. Now it seems the France and Germany reached an agreement, which will be voted on the 8th of February. Then the final trialogue will take place on Monday, the 11th of February, and it is likely that there will be an agreement. The document will be sent to the Parliament for a final vote.

There is a lot of speculation about the contents of the Directive. MEPs are waiting until the text is finalized and they can start mobilizing people for the final vote.

Why do you believe France and Germany have a bigger influence on the issue than the Baltic countries?

–They have simply more power because of their size. If all three Baltic States would vote against and Germany would vote in favour, then they would have the power to block the majority in the Council. So far, they have supported it.

How do you believe the Copyright Directive will affect business and innovation?

–Small businesses are very concerned they will have to invest a lot of money to implement the new rules. Companies like Google already possess the technology, but smaller companies will have to invest. This is a real problem for start-ups who want to expand. They will simply leave the EU so they will not have to follow those rules.

Will memes really be banned?

–I prefer to say “stuck in the filter”. The user will upload a meme, which contains some kind of copyrighted image and the filter stops is from publishing. The user will have to contact the moderator and argue that the use of the content is exempted. This takes time and patience and after several times the user might not want to do it anymore. So memes will not be banned explicitly, but effectively.

Do you believe we out of time to make a difference now?

–No, the EP still has the final say. And the timing is right before the elections. I think it is very powerful to send a message: If you vote for this, we will not re-elect you. It should become a more national discussion, not only a European or an online one.

What can Estonians, Lithuanians and Latvians do to ward off the passing of the directive?

–What anyone can do is let his or her voice be heard. Both online and offline. The community needs to come together and show that they do not want this. It was done during the ACTA protests, it can be done again.

How has your home country, Estonia, resolved the issue of Internet copyright? How much is it different from that in Western Europe and the Article 13?

–This makes it sound as if copyright does not exist online. This is not true. Copyright exists everywhere. And now it works on a notice and takedown basis. If your work has been uploaded without authorization, you make and notice and it is taken down. When it comes to YouTube, they use content id to find music which has been uploaded without the permission of the rights holder. Article 13 switches the order: it is prevented from upload in the first place.

Speaking of Estonia, the copyright legislation is similar to any other EU country. Keep in mind that this is also already regulated through European legislation, like the INFOSOC. One thing I believe Estonia should introduce is the freedom of panorama: the exception to copyright which allows you to take pictures of buildings and art permanently located in public. Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and others have it, while France and Italy amongst the others that do not (have).

If you would like to discuss Article 13 with your MEPs, go to saveyourinternet.eu/act