The Polish government is demanding that ISPs snitch on their customers who attempt to access websites it deems illegal.
The government wants to make the restrictions stricter for unauthorised online gambling sites and will require local ISPs to inform it about citizens' attempts to access them. According to the Panoptykon Foundation, a digital rights watchdog, the
government will compile a central registry of unauthorized websites to monitor.
According to the digital rights body, the government seeks to introduce a chief snooper that would compel data from ISPs disclosing which citizens tried to access unauthorised websites. In addition, the ISPs would have to keep the smooping
requests secret from the customer.
Local organisations are unsurprisingly worried that the censorship's expansion could turn out to be the first of many steps in an online limitation escalation.
Against all the odds, but with the support of nearly a million Europeans
, MEPs voted earlier this month to reject
the EU's proposed copyright reform--including controversial proposals to create a new "snippet" right for news publishers, and mandatory copyright filters for sites that published user uploaded content.
The change was testimony to how powerful and fast-moving Net activists can be. Four weeks ago, few knew that these crazy provisions were even being considered. By the June 20th vote,
Internet experts were weighing in
, and wider conversations
were starting on sites like Reddit.
The result was a vote on July 5th of all MEPS, which ended in a 318 against 278 victory in favour of withdrawing the Parliament's support for the languages. Now all MEPs will have a chance in September to submit new amendments and vote on a final
text -- or reject the directive entirely.
While re-opening the text was a surprising set-back for Article 13 and 11, the battle isn't over: the language to be discussed on in September will be based on
the original proposal
by the European Commission, from two years ago -- which included the first versions of the copyright filters, and snippet rights. German MEP Axel Voss's controversial modifications will also be included in the debate, and there may well be a flood
of other proposals, good and bad, from the rest of the European Parliament.
There's still sizeable support for the original text: Article 11 and 13's loudest proponents, led by Voss, persuaded many MEPs to support them by arguing that these new powers would restore the balance between American tech giants and Europe's
newspaper and creative industries -- or "close the value gap", as their arguments have it.
But using mandatory algorithmic censors and new intellectual property rights to restore balance is like Darth Vader bringing balance to the Force: the fight may involve a handful of brawling big players, but it's everybody else who would have to
deal with the painful consequences.
That's why it remains so vital for MEPs to hear voices that represent the wider public interest. Librarians
, and redditors, everyone from small Internet businesses and celebrity Youtubers, spoke up in a way that was impossible for the Parliament to ignore. The same Net-savvy MEPs and activists that wrote and fought for the GDPR put their names to
challenge the idea that these laws would rein back American tech companies. Wikipedians stood up and were counted: seven independent, European-language encyclopedias consensed to
on the day of the vote. European alternatives to Google, Facebook and Twitter argued that this would set back their cause
. And European artists
spoke up that the EU shouldn't be setting up censorship and ridiculous link rights in their name.
To make sure the right amendments pass in September, we need to keep that conversation going. Read on to find out what you can do, and who you should be speaking to.
Who Spoke Up In The European Parliament?
As we noted last week, the decision to challenge the JURI committee's language on Article 13 and 11 last week was not automatic -- a minimum of 78 MEPs needed to petition for it to be put to the vote. Here's
of those MEPs who actively stepped forward to stop the bill. Also heavily involved was Julia Reda, the Pirate Party MEP who worked so hard on making the rest of the proposed directive so positive for copyright reform, and then re-dedicated herself
to stopping the worst excesses of the JURI language, and Marietje Schaake
, the Parliament's foremost advocate for human rights online.
These are the core of the opposition to Article 13 and 11. A look at that list, and the
final list of votes
on July 5th, shows that the proposals have opponents in every corner of Europe's political map. It also shows that every MEP who voted for Article 13 and 11, has someone close to them politically who knows why it's wrong.
What happens now?
In the next few weeks, those deep in the minutiae of the Copyright directive will be crafting amendments for MEPs to vote on in September. The tentative schedule is that the amendments are accepted until Wednesday September 5th, with a vote at
12:00 Central European Time on Wednesday September 12th.
The European Parliament has a fine tradition of producing a rich supply of amendments (the GDPR had thousands). We'll need to coalesce support around a few key fixes that will keep the directive free of censorship filters and snippet rights
language, and replace them with something less harmful to the wider Net.
Julia Reda already proposed amendments. And one of Voss' strongest critics in the latest vote was Catherine Stihler, the Scottish MEP who had created and passed consumer-friendly directive language in her committee, which Voss ignored. (Here's her
before the final vote.)
While we wait for those amendments to appear, the next step is to keep the pressure on MEPs to remember what's at stake -- no mandatory copyright filters, and no new ancillary rights on snippets of text.
In particular, if you talk to your MEP
, it's important to convey how you feel these proposals will affect you . MEPs are hearing from giant tech and media companies. But they are only just beginning to hear from a broader camp: the people of the Internet.
France's online gaming authority (ARJEL, Autorité de Régulation des Jeux En Ligne) has decided that loot boxes in
premium-priced games are not gambling. It determined that loot boxes are not legally considered gambling, and therefore are not gambling.
However, ARJEL will continue to monitor the matter and is also calling for more unilateral support from the European Union in order to achieve a sound consensus on whether or not to consider loot boxes gambling.
According to ARJEL, the fact that you can't readily cash out your rewards from loot boxes for real-world currency means that in the minds of regulators it's not quite gambling. For them, the only way it would be gambling is if players could
actually retrieve the money that they invested into the product.
However, ARJEL also believes that loot boxes do contain questionable psychological hooks that work very similar to slot machines and roulette wheels in terms of luring gamers into a feeling of needing to spend more money in order to acquire the
item they seek.
As we have been covering in the last couple of articles, a controversial EU Copyright Directive has been under discussion at
the European Parliament, and in a surprising turn of events, it voted to reject
fast-tracking the tabled proposal by the JURI Committee which contained controversial proposals, particularly in
and Art 13
. The proposed Directive will now get a full discussion and debate in plenary in September.
I say surprising because for those of us who have been witnesses (and participants) to the Copyright Wars for the last 20 years, such a defeat of copyright maximalist proposals is practically unprecedented, perhaps with the exception of
. For years we've had a familiar pattern in the passing of copyright legislation: a proposal has been made to enhance protection and/or restrict liberties, a small group of ageing millionaire musicians would be paraded supporting the changes in
the interest of creators. Only copyright nerds and a few NGOs and digital rights advocates would complain, their opinions would be ignored and the legislation would pass unopposed. Rinse and repeat.
But something has changed, and a wide coalition has managed to defeat powerful media lobbies for the first time in Europe, at least for now. How was this possible?
The main change is that the media landscape is very different thanks to the Internet. In the past, the creative industries were monolithic in their support for stronger protection, and they included creators, corporations, collecting societies,
publishers, and distributors; in other words the gatekeepers and the owners were roughly on the same side. But the Internet brought a number of new players, the tech industry and their online platforms and tools became the new gatekeepers.
Moreover, as people do not buy physical copies of their media and the entire industry has moved towards streaming, online distributors have become more powerful. This has created a perceived imbalance, where the formerly dominating industries need
to negotiate with the new gatekeepers for access to users. This is why creators complain about a value gap
between what they perceive they should be getting, and what they actually receive from the giants.
The main result of this change from a political standpoint is that now we have two lobbying sides in the debate, which makes all the difference when it comes to this type of legislation. In the past, policymakers could ignore experts and digital
rights advocates because they never had the potential to reach them, letters and articles by academics were not taken into account, or given lip service during some obscure committee discussion just to be hidden away. Tech giants such as Google
have provided lobbying access in Brussels, which has at least levelled the playing field when it comes to presenting evidence to legislators.
As a veteran of the Copyright Wars, I have to admit that it has been very entertaining reading the reaction from the copyright industry lobby groups and their individual representatives, some almost going apoplectic with rage at Google's
intervention. These tend to be the same people who spent decades lobbying legislators to get their way unopposed, representing large corporate interests unashamedly and passing laws that would benefit only a few, usually to the detriment of users.
It seems like lobbying must be decried when you lose.
But to see this as a victory for Google and other tech giants completely ignores the large coalition that shares the view that the proposed Articles 11 and 13 are very badly thought-out, and could represent a real danger to existing rights. Some
of us have been fighting this fight when Google did not even exist, or it was but a small competitor of AltaVista, Lycos, Excite and Yahoo!
At the same time that more restrictive copyright legislation came into place, we also saw the rise of free and open source software, open access, Creative Commons and open data. All of these are legal hacks that allow sharing, remixing and
openness. These were created precisely to respond to restrictive copyright practices. I also remember how they were opposed as existential threats by the same copyright industries, and treated with disdain and animosity. But something wonderful
happened, eventually open source software started winning (we used to buy operating systems), and Creative Commons became an important part of the Internet's ecosystem by propping-up valuable common spaces such as Wikipedia.
Similarly, the Internet has allowed a great diversity of actors to emerge. Independent creators, small and medium enterprises, online publishers and startups love the Internet because it gives them access to a wider audience, and often they can
bypass established gatekeepers. Lost in this idiotic "Google v musicians" rhetoric has been the threat that both Art 11 and 13 represent to small entities. Art 11 proposes a new publishing right that has been proven to affect smaller
players in Germany and Spain; while Art 13 would impose potentially crippling economic restrictions to smaller companies as they would have to put in place automated filtering systems AND redress mechanisms against mistakes. In fact, it has been
often remarked that Art 13 would benefit existing dominant forces, as they already have filtering in place (think ContentID).
Similarly, Internet advocates and luminaries see the proposals as a threat to the Internet, the people who know the Web best think that this is a bad idea. If you can stomach it,
read this thread featuring
a copyright lobbyist attacking Neil Gaiman, who has been one of the Internet celebrities that have voiced their concerns about the Directive.
Even copyright experts
who almost never intervene in digital rights affairs the have been vocal in their opposition to the changes.
And finally we have political representatives from various parties and backgrounds who have been vocally opposed to the changes. While the leader of the political opposition has been the amazing Julia Reda, she has managed to bring together a
variety of voices from other parties and countries. The vitriol launched at her has been unrelenting, but futile. It has been quite a sight to see her opponents both try to dismiss her as just another clueless young Pirate commanded by Google,
while at the same time they try to portray her as a powerful enemy in charge of the mindless and uninformed online troll masses ready to do her bidding.
All of the above managed to do something wonderful, which was to convey the threat in easy-to-understand terms so that users could contact their representatives and make their voice heard. The level of popular opposition to the Directive has been
a great sight to behold.
Tech giants did not create this alliance, they just gave various voices access to the table. To dismiss this as Google's doing completely ignores the very real and rich tapestry of those defending digital rights, and it is quite clearly
patronising and insulting, and precisely the reason why they lost. It was very late until they finally realised that they were losing the debate with the public, and not even the last-minute deployment of musical dinosaurs could save the day.
But the fight continues, keep contacting your MEPs and keep applying pressure.
So who supported internet censorship in the EU parliamentary vote?
Mostly the EU Conservative Group and also half the Social Democrat MEPs and half the Far Right MEPs
France's TV censor has warned the French arm of the propaganda channel, Russia Today, over a
news report that dubbed over the voices of Syrian civilians with words they had not said.
France's Audiovisual Council (CSA) accused the state-backed broadcaster with failures of honesty, rigour of information and diversity of viewpoints.
The news report, aired on 13 April, contested the reality of chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian region of Eastern Ghouta, the CSA said. It noted that the testimony of a Syrian witness had been dubbed with a voice saying words that bore no
resemblance with what he had said.
The CSA added that another witness had been dubbed with a voiceover saying that local residents had been ordered by militant group Jaysh al-Islam to simulate the effects of a chemical attack, but the testimony did not mention any particular group.
The CSA further said the report demonstrated an imbalance in analysis of the situation in Syria and that on a subject this sensitive, the different points of view should have been expressed.
What is the mysterious hold that US Big Music has over Euro politicians?
Article 13, the proposed EU legislation that aims to restrict safe harbors for online platforms, was crafted to end the so-called "Value Gap" on YouTube.
Music piracy was traditionally viewed as an easy to identify problem, one that takes place on illegal sites or via largely uncontrollable peer-to-peer networks. In recent years, however, the lines have been blurred.
Sites like YouTube allow anyone to upload potentially infringing content which is then made available to the public. Under the safe harbor provisions of US and EU law, this remains legal -- provided YouTube takes content down when told to do so.
It complies constantly but there's always more to do.
This means that in addition to being one of the greatest legal platforms ever created, YouTube is also a goldmine of unlicensed content, something unacceptable to the music industry.
They argue that the existence of this pirate material devalues the licensed content on the platform. As a result, YouTube maintains a favorable bargaining position with the labels and the best licensing deal in the industry.
The difference between YouTube's rates and those the industry would actually like is now known as the "
" and it's become one of the hottest topics in recent years.
In fact, it is so controversial that new copyright legislation, currently weaving its way through the corridors of power in the EU Parliament, is specifically designed to address it.
If passed, Article 13 will require platforms like YouTube to pre-filter uploads to detect potential infringement. Indeed, the legislation may as well have been named the YouTube Act, since it's the platform that provoked this entire debate and
whole Value Gap dispute.
With that in mind, it's of interest to consider the words of YouTube's global head of music Lyor Cohen this week. In an interview with
, Cohen pledges that his company's new music service, YouTube Music, will not only match the rates the industry achieves from Apple Music and Spotify, but the company's ad-supported free tier viewers will soon be delivering more cash to the labels
too. "Of course [rights holders are] going to get more money," he told Music Week.
If YouTube lives up to its pledge, a level playing field will not only be welcomed by the music industry but also YouTube competitors such as Spotify, who currently offer a free tier on less favorable terms.
While there's still plenty of room for YouTube to maneuver, peace breaking out with the labels may be coming a little too late for those deeply concerned about the implications of Article 13.
YouTube's business model and its reluctance to pay full market rate for music is what started the whole Article 13 movement in the first place and with the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliament (JURI)
adopting the proposals last week
, time is running out to have them overturned.
Behind the scenes, however, the labels and their associates are going flat out to ensure that Article 13 passes, whether YouTube decides to "play fair" or not. Their language suggests that force is the best negotiating tactic with the
Yesterday, UK Music CEO Michael Dugher led a delegation to the EU Parliament in support of Article 13. He was joined by deputy Labour leader Tom Watson and representatives from the BPI, PRS, and Music Publishers Association, who urged MEPs to
support the changes.
The Hungarian National Opera in Budapest has cancelled 15 performances of the musical Billy Elliot ,
blaming negative campaigning by the local media.
Daily newspaper Magyor Idok ran a series of stories claiming that the show could transform Hungarian boys into homosexuals, and another article said it promoted a deviant way of life.
Szilveszter Okovacs, director of the Hungary National Opera, told Hungarian site 444.hu: As you know, the negative campaign in recent weeks against the Billy Elliot production led to a big drop in ticket sales and for this reason we are cancelling
15 performances in line with the decision of our management.
The show will still play 24 other dates in the city, including one that is sold out.
Update: Billy Elliot gay propaganda row exposes purge in Hungary
The attack on the head of the Hungarian State Opera was both crude and unexpected. And it came from the mouthpiece of the ruling Fidesz party, Magyar Idok.
Children who watched the opera's performance of the musical Billy Elliot were in danger of becoming homosexual, wrote Zsofia N Horvath in her opinion piece.Even the red stars used in the performance, in Budapest's cavernous Erkel theatre, were
attacked in the show as banned symbols.
But another mystery entirely is that there is no known journalist called Zsofia N Horvath. The article fits into a new cultural offensive against the last liberals in a film, theatre and publishing world that is already dominated by Fidesz
Since December the same publication, Magyar Idok, has featured a string of articles with targets including the head of the distinguished Petofi literary museum in Budapest, Gergely Pröhle. Jozsef Palinkas, the head of the National Research,
Development and Innovation Office and a one-time Orban education minister, has been sacked.
All areas of cultural life should be purged of those who allow space for liberal, globalist, and cosmopolitan ideas, the writers suggest, including state News Agency MTI, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and even Petofi radio, a public service
The Dutch gambling authority will enforce a new ban on loot boxes. They identified four games that offer loot boxes that are considered gambling. According to the public broadcast company these games are FIFA 18, DOTA 2 , PlayerUnknown's
BattleGrounds and Rocket League .
These games had until the 20th of June to make changes to the gambling aspect of their loot boxes. Starting from Thursday the gambling authority will enforce the rules. Fines can be 830.000 euro (960.000 dollar) or 10% of the company's worldwide
revenue. If they don't make changes, the public prosecutor will look into prosecution.
The Hamburg Higher Court ruled to dismiss Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's appeal to ban German comedian Jan
Böhmermann's poem due to claims of insult and mockery.
The court ruled that the poem could not be completely banned due to Germany's laws protecting free speech. However, the court did uphold a ban regarding specific passages within the poem, which associates Erdogan with acts like bestiality and
consuming child pornography.
The Turkish president was able to file a case against the German-based comedian due to an obscure German law that deems it illegal for German citizens to insult foreign leaders.
Böhmermann initially presented the poem on 31 March 2016 on his public broadcaster ZDF television programme Neo Magazin Royale . The satirical poem, which accused the Turkish president of repressing minorities and engaging in lewd
behaviour, was read aloud by Böhmermann while he sat in front of a Turkish flag and a framed portrait of Erdogan.
The European Parliament's Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI) has officially approved Articles 11 and 13 of a Digital Single
Market (DSM) copyright proposal, mandating censorship machines and a link tax.
Articles 11 and 13 of the Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Copyright in the Digital Single Market have been the subject of considerable campaigning from pro-copyleft groups including the Open Rights Group and Electronic
Frontier Foundation of late.
Article 11, as per the final version of the proposal, discusses the implementation of a link tax - the requirement that any site citing third-party materials do so in a way that adheres to the exemptions and restrictions of a total of 28 separate
copyright laws or pays for a licence to use and link to the material;
Article 13, meanwhile, requires any site which allows users to post text, sound, program code, still or moving images, or any other work which can be copyrighted to automatically scan all such uploads against a database of copyright works - a
database which they will be required to pay to access.
Both Article 11 and Article 13 won't become official legislation until passed by the entire European Parliament in a plenary vote. There's no definite timetable for when such a vote might take place, but it would likely happen sometime between
December of this year and the first half of 2019.
On June 20, the EU's legislative committee will vote on the
new Copyright directive
, and decide whether it will include the controversial "Article 13" (automated censorship of anything an algorithm identifies as a copyright violation) and "Article 11" (no linking to news stories without paid permission from
These proposals will make starting new internet companies effectively impossible -- Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and the other US giants will be able to negotiate favourable rates and build out the infrastructure to comply with these
proposals, but no one else will. The EU's regional tech success stories -- say Seznam.cz
, a successful Czech search competitor to Google -- don't have $60-100,000,000 lying around to build out their filters, and lack the leverage to extract favorable linking licenses from news sites.
If Articles 11 and 13 pass, American companies will be in charge of Europe's conversations, deciding which photos and tweets and videos can be seen by the public, and who may speak.
So far, the focus in the debate has been on the intended consequences of the proposals: the idea that a certain amount of free expression and competition must be sacrificed to enable rightsholders to force Google and Facebook to share their
But the unintended -- and utterly foreseeable -- consequences are even more important. Article 11's link tax allows news sites to decide who gets to link to them, meaning that they can exclude their critics. With election cycles dominated by
hoaxes and fake news, the right of a news publisher to decide who gets to criticise it is carte blanche to lie and spin.
Article 13's copyright filters are even more vulnerable to attack: the proposals contain no penalties for false claims of copyright ownership, but they do mandate that the filters must accept copyright claims in bulk, allowing
rightsholders to upload millions of works at once in order to claim their copyright and prevent anyone from posting them.
That opens the doors to all kinds of attacks. The obvious one is that trolls might sow mischief by uploading millions of works they don't hold the copyright to, in order to prevent others from quoting them: the works of Shakespeare, say, or
everything ever posted to Wikipedia, or my novels, or your family photos.
More insidious is the possibility of targeted strikes during crisis: stock-market manipulators could use bots to claim copyright over news about a company, suppressing its sharing on social media; political actors could suppress key articles
during referendums or elections; corrupt governments could use arms-length trolls to falsely claim ownership of footage of human rights abuses.
It's asymmetric warfare: falsely claiming a copyright will be easy (because the rightsholders who want this system will not tolerate jumping through hoops to make their claims) and instant (because rightsholders won't tolerate delays when their
new releases are being shared online at their moment of peak popularity). Removing a false claim of copyright will require that a human at an internet giant looks at it, sleuths out the truth of the ownership of the work, and adjusts the database
-- for millions of works at once. Bots will be able to pollute the copyright databases much faster than humans could possibly clear it.
I spoke with Wired UK's KG Orphanides about this, and their excellent article
on the proposal is the best explanation I've seen of the uses of these copyright filters to create unstoppable disinformation campaigns.
Doctorow highlighted the potential for unanticipated abuse of any automated copyright filtering system to make false copyright claims, engage in targeted harassment and even silence public discourse at sensitive times.
"Because the directive does not provide penalties for abuse -- and because rightsholders will not tolerate delays between claiming copyright over a work and suppressing its public display -- it will be trivial to claim copyright over key
works at key moments or use bots to claim copyrights on whole corpuses.
The nature of automated systems, particularly if powerful rightsholders insist that they default to initially blocking potentially copyrighted material and then releasing it if a complaint is made, would make it easy for griefers to use copyright
claims over, for example, relevant Wikipedia articles on the eve of a Greek debt-default referendum or, more generally, public domain content such as the entirety of Wikipedia or the complete works of Shakespeare.
"Making these claims will be MUCH easier than sorting them out -- bots can use cloud providers all over the world to file claims, while companies like Automattic (WordPress) or Twitter, or even projects like Wikipedia, would have to marshall
vast armies to sort through the claims and remove the bad ones -- and if they get it wrong and remove a legit copyright claim, they face unbelievable copyright liability."