The Controversy Behind EU’s Digital Single Market Economy Explained

Till a fortnight ago, the world waited with bated breath as the members of the European Parliament contemplated a proposed directive to herald a new Copyright Law within the European Union. This Directive aims to create a digital single market and has been named as such. However, the proposal has been a hotbed for controversy right since its very inception in 2016. While many advocate both for and against its enforcement, not all understand why so many open letters were written to the Parliament, especially by internet giants like Wikipedia and why Facebook and Google staunchly opposed it. While stalwarts of the entertainment industry, especially sound and music, were vehemently in favour of the law.

The Parliament, in its esteemed wisdom, did not bite the bullet and sent the proposal back for revision. It will now be tabled again in September which is but a momentary respite from all the brouhaha.

For all those wondering why the internet generation cried rivers together, here’s a breakdown of why this Directive was touted as being the next step in surveillance and would have ‘broken’ the internet.

The primary issue revolved around Articles 11 and 13 of the Directive, popularly known as the ‘link tax’ and ‘meme ban’, respectively.

In short, Article 11 would have made it impossible for websites like Wikipedia, news aggregators like Google and media monitoring companies to upload even snippets of news articles from sources like the BBC without first paying a license fee to the original publishers. Hence, the link tax nomenclature. You would be taxed for linking to another’s original content.

On the other hand, the meme ban would have required all content sought to be uploaded on the internet to first be filtered for plagiarization so as to prevent infringement of copyright. All internet companies and websites would have to automatically filter the content and no exceptions was provided for honest/genuine parodies, memes, vines, etc. It needs no mention that the cost of developing and installing such auto-filtering software would have been humongous for the companies, especially considering the huge amount of data that is sought to be uploaded every second of every day.

Additionally, such filtering would also have enabled the authorities to monitor or ‘surveil’ internet usage of the people. Someone seeking to upload copyrighted material, in any form irrespective of the intention, would have raised red flags. Opponents of the directive had gone as far as to say that this would have made even made NSA’s surveillance look like child’s play.

As of yet, it is not clear which Articles of the proposed Directive will be revised before re-tabling. However, it is hoped that all genuine points raised by stakeholders in the industry will be given due consideration. Or else, the internet as we know it will change forever.