EU Gives Up On The Open Web Experiment, Decides It Will Be The Licensed Web Going Forward
from the this-is-bad dept
Well, this was not entirely unexpected at this point, but in the EU Parliament earlier today, they voted to end the open web and move to a future of a licensed-only web. It is not final yet, as the adopted version by the EU Parliament is different than the (even worse) version that was agreed to by the EU Council. The two will now need to iron out the differences and then there will be a final vote on whatever awful consolidated version they eventually come up with. There will be plenty to say on this in the coming weeks, months and years, but let’s just summarize what has happened.
For nearly two decades, the legacy entertainment industries have always hated the nature of the open web. Their entire business models were based on being gatekeepers, and a “broadcast” world in which everything was licensed and curated was perfect for that. It allowed the gatekeepers to have ultimate control — and with it the power to extract massive rents from actual creators (including taking control over their copyright). The open web changed much of that. By allowing anyone to publicize, distribute and sell works by themselves, directly to end users, the middlemen were no longer important.
The fundamental nature of the internet was that it was a communications medium rather than a broadcast medium, and as such it allowed for permissionless distribution of content and communication. This has always infuriated the legacy gatekeepers as it completely undermined the control and leverage they had over the market. If you look back at nearly every legal move by these gatekeepers over the last twenty five years concerning the internet, it has always been about trying to move the internet away from an open, permissionless system back towards one that was a closed, licensed, broadcast, curated one. There’s historical precedence for this as well. It’s the same thing that happened to radio a century ago.
For the most part, the old gatekeepers have not been able to succeed, but that changed today. The proposal adopted by the EU Parliament makes a major move towards ending the open web in the EU and moving to a licensed, curated one, which will limit innovation, harm creators, and only serve to empower the largest internet platforms and some legacy gatekeepers. As Julia Reda notes:
Today?s decision is a severe blow to the free and open internet. By endorsing new legal and technical limits on what we can post and share online, the European Parliament is putting corporate profits over freedom of speech and abandoning long-standing principles that made the internet what it is today.
The Parliament?s version of Article 13 (366 for, 297 against) seeks to make all but the smallest internet platforms liable for any copyright infringements committed by their users. This law leaves sites and apps no choice but to install error-prone upload filters. Anything we want to publish will need to first be approved by these filters, and perfectly legal content like parodies and memes will be caught in the crosshairs.
The adopted version of Article 11 (393 for, 279 against) allows only ?individual words? of news articles to be reproduced for free, including in hyperlinks ? closely following an existing German law. Five years after the ?link tax? came into force in Germany, no journalist or publisher has made an extra penny, startups in the news sector have had to shut down and courts have yet to clear up the legal uncertainty on exactly where to draw the line. The same quagmire will now repeat at the EU level ? no argument has been made why it wouldn?t, apart from wishful thinking.
This is a dark day for the open internet in the EU… and around the world. Expect the same gatekeepers to use this move by the EU to put pressure on the US and lots of other countries around the world to “harmonize” and adopt similar standards in trade agreements.
I know that many authors, musicians, journalists and other content creators cheered this on, incorrectly thinking that was a blow to Google and would magically benefit them. But they should recognize just what they’ve supported. It is not a bill designed to help creators. It is a bill designed to prevent innovation, lock up paths for content creators to have alternatives, and force them back into the greedy, open arms of giant gatekeepers.