German Government's Bullying Of FOI Group Provides A Warning Of How EU's New Upload Filters Will Be Used For Censorship
from the making-life-for-whistleblowers-even-harder dept
One of the many concerns about the upload filters of the EU’s Copyright Directive is that they could lead to censorship, even if that is not the intention. The problem is that once a filtering mechanism is in place to block unauthorized copies of materials, it is very hard to stop its scope being widened beyond copyright infringement. As it happens, the German government has just provided a good example of the kind of abuse that is likely to become a commonplace.
FragDenStaat — literally “ask the State” — is a German freedom of information (FOI) organization. It obtained and published a six-page report about the herbicide glyphosate. The document was written by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, a publicly-funded body that provides scientific advice to Germany’s federal government on issues relating to things like food, product, and chemical safety, as well as consumer health protection. Even though the report was paid for by the German public, obtained legally — and can still be requested by anyone — FragDenStaat is not allowed to distribute it. The Regional Court in Cologne has ruled that would be an infringement of the German State’s copyright, and ordered it to be taken down. FragDenStaat says it will appeal — to the Court of Justice of the European Union, if necessary — and comments:
The federal government abuses copyright law to prevent the publication of public interest documents. This is possible because German copyright law is hopelessly outdated. We believe that copyright law should ensure that tax-financed documents such as the Glyphosat report may be used freely. But in contrast, the German government wants to tighten copyright law further, which will further reduce the amount of information the public receives about important topics like this.
Leaving aside the issue that all such reports funded by the public should by freely available unless there are very good reasons to withhold them — not the case here — there is the particularly troubling aspect of this bullying of FragDenStaat by the German government. At the moment, there is little to stop copies of this document being requested, then uploaded and shared around the Internet. But once the EU Copyright Directive’s upload filters have been installed, it will be easy for the German government to require sites to block these attempts. The fact that the authorities were willing to waste money taking FragDenStaat to court over a six-page document suggests they won’t hesitate for a second to use upload filters to block sharing.
It won’t just be governments. It is inevitable that leaked documents showing evidence of wrong-doing by companies will be blocked on all the major sites once upload filters are available. No court order is required, so it will become the first thing companies trying to hide their dirty washing will do. Upload filters will not only cause legitimate material produced by Internet users to be blocked by over-cautious online platforms, it will also make life even harder for whistleblowers to expose the truth about corporate crimes and misdeeds. How convenient.