An important chance to reform Europe’s copyright framework for the digital age may soon be botched unless the worst parts of a European Commision proposal are withdrawn.

Reform could be good. European copyright is woefully outdated, designed for a time before the Internet. But a few of the suggested ideas would be unhealthy or even dangerous.

When measured and balanced, copyright protections can be a boon to scientific and technical innovation, free expression and creativity. Regrettably, the interests of major rights holders and news conglomerates sometimes appear to take precedence over the rights of citizens.

Europe by Niccolò Caranti
Europe” by Niccolò Caranti, 2010 (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Here’s an example. One part of the proposal says that linking to news content with a headline and a snippet of text (as is common on most major search and social media platforms) would be subject to copyright and require you to seek permission from the publisher.

Being able to link to articles and websites freely is essential to the openness of the Web.

Another part of the proposal requires websites to monitor and filter all user content (including music, videos, photos and more) for copyright infringement, possibly even if you are only sharing with friends. Deploying such software would have the unintended consequence of limiting free speech by catching things like parody and satire in its filters.

Internet “intermediaries” like Wikipedia, Github, eBay or DeviantArt would be robbed of liability protections that are important to online freedom.

Finally, there’s one part of the proposal that says you will only be exempt from copyright when “mining” data and text if you belong to a research institution. It basically means that any journalist, librarian, advocacy group or citizen is barred from doing big data research.

This truly goes against what a healthy Internet can enable through data and the broad sharing of information online.

Negotiations over the proposal are still ongoing and the good news is that there is ripe opportunity for citizens to voice their concerns and provide a counterbalance to industry lobbyists and political leaders who are not yet Internet savvy.

Law making in Europe involves 28 countries and 24 languages, and the political process in Brussels is somewhat removed from the national public debate of individual countries.

Fortunately, coalitions of digital rights groups, librarians, creators, startups, researchers, educators and Internet users are working to make sure copyright reform isn’t overlooked. If a flexible, forward-looking copyright proposal passes into law in Europe, it will benefit innovation, creativity and free expression, and could even help set a standard for the world.

Further reading:

Copyright for Creativity Coalition

A future NOT made in the EU, Centrum Cyfrowe
Create Refresh, Creators Network
Change Copyright, Mozilla