What you Need to Know About Article 13

As the Internet continues to grow and evolve, user-posted content has also grown exponentially, on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, and Facebook.  Article 13, a new copyright law recently approved by the European Union, is a far-reaching attempt to govern and regulate that content.

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Simply stated, the Copyright Directive portion of Article 13 makes each specific platform liable for the content uploaded to the platform by their users.  On the surface, this might seem like a step in the direction of intellectual property equity.  Everyone wants artists and writers to receive credit and compensati0n for their work, and Article 13 seems to address that goal, along with some (probably needed) regulation of these massive platforms.  Digging deeper, however, it becomes clear that Article 13 is more about compensating the corporations that hold the licenses for specific work, rather than the original creator.  That means that the platforms will have to pay the rights holders for any copyright-infringing content, or they will have to monitor and delete uploads of any questionable content.  This is a game changer for platforms like YouTube, where users regularly upload video clips from TV and movies, video games, and concert, theatre, and song performances.  They also frequently use licensed characters, photos, and background music from many sources.  The removal of all this content would have a chilling effect on these platforms, to say the least.

To combat this move, both YouTube and Twitch have come out aggressively against the measure.  Twitch warned that it could be forced to impose filters and monitoring measures on all works uploaded by residents of the EU.  According to Twitch, they would have to require anyone uploading content to “provide copyright ownership information, clearances, or take other steps to prove that you comply with thorny and complicated copyright laws.”  As Article 13 applies specifically to the European Union, this means that those users would receive far more limited content than users in the United States, where the law does not apply.

YouTube agrees with Twitch that Article 13 is a step in the wrong direction and calls it bad copyright reform.  In their own letter, YouTube posited that Article 13 threatens “hundreds of thousands of jobs”, including those of the artists and writers Article 13 purports to protect.  They base this on the likelihood that the platforms would not want to assume the risk of sharing content from the millions of regular users, as it would be nearly impossible to vet all their content.  YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki fears that the ultimate effect would be that platforms only allow content from large companies, who would either own the content or have the resources to vet the material.  The platforms would no longer take the risk of accepting content from smaller and original content providers “because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content.”

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While the platforms vocally suggest that Article 13 is aimed at content creators, and therefore a threat to an open internet, in reality it comes down to profits.  These free-to-user sites are not likely to shell out millions of dollars to license all the content uploaded to their platforms.  The users of these platforms are as outraged as the platforms themselves, and equally vocal.

In the meantime, Article 13 does exclude certain forms of expression, such as memes and gifs.  This is not a comfort to regular EU streamers, some of whom are now threatening moves to the US.  Article 13 must now go through approvals and acceptances by the EU countries, as it works its way towards a 2021 effective date.