Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle

Some talking heads at Computer Weekly have blogged on the topic of the European Copyright Directive.

There is a minefield of possible unintended consequences here, yet there is plainly a need to do something. ECD’s Article 11 would inevitably tilt the see-saw in favour of the Big Players with a predictably adverse effect on Indie publishers. Whether or not that particular consequence is unintended is open to speculation. More subtly, though … you know that old saw about the local rock band playing at a restaurant for “free exposure”? One rule for the aspiring rock band, another for the Corporation. Again.

How so? … imagine Computer Weekly as a News Site, which to all intents and purposes it is – a little biased politically, maybe, but what isn’t? Heck that is an essential qualifier for a News Site these days. With the ECD in its last proposed form, I could foresee a situation in which I would have to pay handsomely to put the link above (*) here on my own website, but could as a Social Media user possibly post it for free or maybe in future via some kind of prepaid subscription model, subject to their not considering it disagreeable, let’s say on the grounds of decency or perhaps political sensitivity. In effect the host of that notional Social Media site would then obtain ultimate control over the publication of my opinion, and further – arguably more dangerously – over whether the News Site got the “free exposure” in its turn. At this point, never mind the politics! Already in some Social Media spaces, even genuinely apolitical content has its publication blocked, initially by robots in the name of Article 13 with various degrees of nuance in their rule sets but ultimately by someone who may well be more likely than not to lack specific knowledge in whichever topic area either pertains or happens to fall their lot on the day. The big internet players most assuredly could afford a “panel of experts”, but it’s a pound to a proverbial pinch that on an ongoing basis they would choose not to – downward pressure on wages (sorry, I mean prices) and all that. After all nobody likes an “expert” these days, and that’s almost official policy in some places.

On the other hand, to do nothing is also to render a disservice to the Indie players. We aren’t just talking about “creatives” and their I.P. here, but about every kind of small business trying to make its way in the world without having to pay through the nose for a web presence which ultimately only helps serve to keep their giant-sized competitors ahead of them in the race. Butchers, bakers or candlestick-makers – where any of those still survive, Article 11 is another step on their Road To Nowhere but the lack of it leaves them exposed to less-regulated risks of theft and exploitation.

Does it matter whether a risk is regulated or not? Well, there is a difference between regulation and mitigation. Business is about risk to some degree, but in the interests of humanity that risk needs to be within a fair legal system.

What to do? I don’t know of an answer that will satisfy everyone. However I do believe it is most encouraging that the European Copyright Directive is being reconsidered and not merely junked. As with GDPR there is the fallacious “ah, but Brexit means it doesn’t matter” argument. As things stand however ECD ends up it is more likely than not to become a de-facto international standard because the Big Players both within and outwith the continent of Europe have an interest in the final outcome. Such is the international nature of the internet, and since somebody in Bruxelles has already done most of the legwork there is no need – to mix metaphors – to re-invent the wheel. Rely on it, then, those Big Players will be seeking to bring their influence to bear.

For this reason, regardless of our residence or political leanings we all need to watch developments and where possible make constructive inputs to the legislative process.

(*) Yes. That very link, to that very article that via social media alone you might never have been able to see. Think about it.

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