The Truth About “Link Tax” and “Censorship Machines”

Link Tax My Arse

We’re here again. The censorship card is at the top of the deck, as the internet’s freedom to steal content faces one of its stiffest challenges yet. Just from the collection of manipulative voices spouting highly-charged phrases like “link tax” and “censorship machines”, we know there’s a copyright-related bill in motion. That bill, is the revised European Union Copyright Directive, and the reaction it’s whipped up is almost surreal in its level of distortion.

Whilst I’m discussing the new Directive in this post, I really want to send out a general counter-protest against the cyber giants’ relentless playing of a censorship card, every time the internet’s freedom to steal comes under threat. It happened with SOPA, it happened with Net Neutrality. And it’ll keep happening as long as we’re stupid enough to accept that policing Silicon Valley’s behaviour somehow equates to censorship.

WHAT ARE THE CLAIMS?

You may in recent weeks have noticed talk about a bizarre “link tax”, in which people hyperlinking to online content would require permission do so, and be charged for the privilege. Hand in hand with this, you may have seen references to proposed “censorship machines”, which would “kill the internet”. It’s all part of a protest against the EU’s updated Copyright Directive, and much of it funnels into a campaign site called #SaveYourInternet, which shares a name with a Twitter hashtag.

I went to visit the website #SaveYourInternet, and surprise surpise, I couldn’t access their pages with Javascript switched off. Hmmm, a body crying “censorship!”, whilst hiding its content from anyone who disables the internet’s biggest privacy threat. Not hypocritical AT ALL. And yes, I am being highly sarcastic.

WHAT’S THE REALITY OF THE REVISED EU COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE?

Opposers of the new Directive focus on two Articles – Article 11 and Article 13. These two Articles are respectively associated with the so-called “link tax”, and the so-called “censorship machines”. But what do they actually say?

Well, why not take a look for yourself? You can read the full proposal via the link below…

New EU Copyright Directive

Campaigners against this proposal don’t like linking to it, or quoting it, because it doesn’t say what they’re trying to pretend it says.

CENSORSHIP MACHINES

The opposition claim, for example, that Article 13 enforces what they describe as “censorship machines”. Mandatory upload scanners that block re-posts, regardless of whether or not the re-poster has permission to publish. Campaigners are also linking this with worsening online surveillance, although how a duplicate content scanner would somehow be worse in surveillance terms than cyber giants collecting private phonecall logs and tailing us with face recognition tools, or proprietary manufacturers developing operating systems that function as shockingly oppressive spyware, I have no idea.

More importantly, Article 13 does NOT mandate upload scanners. It states that “information society service providers” (i.e. user generated content plaftorms) must take measures to prevent the availability of known copyright-protected works on their domains. The use of “effective content recognition technologies” appears as a suggestion only. A “such as”.

There’s nothing to say that moderated forums cannot still manually moderate, and in most cases they, and other smaller UGC platforms, would be able to do that through volunteers, as they do now. Currently, there are forums that accept pre-emptive re-post bans from content producers, and do not have any difficulty in keeping those producers’ output off their boards. There’s no reason for that practice to change. But this is not really about sites that already care about copyright control. It’s about those who are equipped to stamp out copyright breach literally overnight, but won’t, because they profit from it.

Article 13 also hands the responsibility of designating copyright-protected work to the rightsholders, who must liaise with the UGC platforms to identify which material is not to be re-posted. In other words, this would not, if properly applied, affect legitimate re-posting as the opposition claim. Permissable content such as affiliate and promo matter would never be identified to the UGC platforms as copyright-protected in the first place.

The opposition next complain that memes using copyright protected images would be outlawed under the new system. My reaction to that? Good! For how many years have we now been subjected to that same, jaded format of humour? God forbid that anyone might think up something new, eh?

What Article 13 really says, is that when a platform has been pre-informed that certain material must not be re-posted, that platform must take steps to prevent the material from being posted. Not simply blind-eye it and cream off ad revenue until the rightsholder finds out – as is the current default. It’s a law designed to stop “blind-eye profiteering”, and it draws our attention to the way cyber giants have all sorts of recognition routines scanning for their own gain, but will not use those same routines to protect copyright. If they won’t behave, force them.

LINK TAX

The hysterically-named “link tax” is either pure scaremongering, or the after-effect of a night on hard shrooms. I’m honestly not sure which. Opposition campaigners allege that somewhere in Article 11, there exists a stipulation that anyone posting a link to a site must get permission to do it, and will have to pay the party to whom they’re linking. Pardon my European, but that is utter, utter bollocks. Read the proposed Directive and see for yourself.

Firstly, Article 11 is aimed squarely at the world of news journalism. And secondly, it has absolutely nothing to do with links. What the article does is recall points of current law, and broaden them to cover press content. Most notably Article 3.2 of the existing Directive…

“Member States shall provide for the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit the making available to the public, by wire or wireless means, in such a way that members of the public may access them from a place and at a time individually chosen by them:”

The inference is a revision of news snippeting practices. In other words, news “aggregators” cannot use the act of “linking” to a news story as a pretext to simply present the story itself. You can post the link. You can’t post the story. It’s not a “link tax”. It’s simply an expansion of existing copyright law to specifically cover “news theft”. I can’t even find anything to suggest that news snippets would be banned outright – especially since the existing mitigations for transformative and fair use re-posting still apply.

The fact that Article 11 would ever be deemed to propose a “link tax” attests to the parasitic mindset of the campaign leaders, who automatically associate stealing the essence of someone’s actual content with the practice of linking to it. Neither the new Article 11, nor the existing Articles it references, mention or allude to hyperlinks.

The internet survived without snippeting in the past. Why would restrictions on news snippeting now suddenly kill the internet?

The new Article 11 even takes the trouble to exclude historical matter, so it’s very plainly a bid to end the problem of news organisations investing in journalists, only for massive internet platforms to reap the value of their work without paying a penny. Nothing to do with censorship – everything to do with preventing the bulldozing of copyright control.

NET NEUTRALITY

Fairly recently, we saw a similar round of censorship-bleating when America’s Net Neutrality policy came to an end.

I don’t support Net Neutrality. If you do support it, but you’ve sometimes questioned the behaviour of cyber giants like Facebook, you may need to look more closely at what you’re supporting.

Net Neutrailty prevents ISPs from interfering in the way the Internet works, and rules that they must exhibit no restrictive practice against any cyber presence. Sounds wonderfully fair when presented like that. But the flipside is that vast cyber giants end up with above-the-law status and can’t realistically be penalised, however badly they behave. If ISPs can’t take action against web powers, who can? No one.

So with Net Neutrality, organisations like Google become the law. They decide who wins, and who loses, and they don’t have to be accountable. You might argue that an online megapower could be a lot worse than Google, but should we be allowing people with vested commercial interests to make up and implement their own laws, with no public vote or veto? If they want to interfere with the music business, news dissemination, image distribution, or book sales, they think that’s absolutely fine. But as soon as there’s any suggestion of someone interfering with their business, it’s suddenly a breach of human rights. Total double standards.

Fundamentally, if ISPs do not have the power to take measures against nefarious behaviour by large online presences, then those large online presences have no impetus to behave. That’s why ALL of them want Net Neutrailty. They don’t want to have to behave. They want freedom to trample, and cut themselves in on everyone else’s revenue, without consequence.

So the cyber giants play their usual trick and paint the removal of Net Neutrality as a censorship issue, because that always mobilises public dissent. But Net Neutrailty has nothing to do with censorship. It’s purely a matter of which businesses you most trust to control the internet. The ISPs, or the likes of Facebook and Verizon.

If you trust Facebook and Verizon more than you trust your ISP, fine. You should support Net Neutrailty and campaign to hand complete freedom to people with track records of trampling over privacy rights and personal security. But I believe my ISP cares more about my welfare than Facebook and Verizon. If I don’t like my ISP, I can leave and go to another. But I can’t do anything about Facebook spying on me and selling its findings without my consent. That’s the difference, and that’s why I think my ISP is more motivated to serve my best interests.

IN SUMMARY

Whenever you hear a cry of “censorship!” on the internet, be suspicious, and look carefully at the kind of people doing the shouting. If you rake through Twitter’s #SaveYourInternet tag, it is virtually wall-to-wall with auto-posts and secondhand content. The exact braindead, nothing-to-say, mindlessly repetitive shit the internet needs rid of.

If you create your own content, you have nothing at all to gain from championing search giants’, social networks’ and other UGC platforms’ immunity from outside regulation. If it were not for you and people like you, the whole web would look like Twitter’s #SaveYourInternet hashtag. One endless echo of copy and paste noise. You are worth more than to be constantly treated like your work exists, but you don’t. The EU is finally saying NO! People do NOT have to tolerate billionaire corporations stealing their work by proxy and progressively, deliberately, eroding the line between linking and republishing to the point where those billionaires control every fucking thing with an iota of value.

That’s where we’ve been going. If this new Directive is implemented, we should finally start to head back towards a fairer Internet, which recognises the value of its content creators. Do not protest against this Directive. It’s good for everyone except thieves.

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