The EU's copyright plans will let anyone mass-censor the internet

Tomorrow's EU vote on a new copyright directive will determine whether the EU internet will be governed by algorithmic censorship filters whose blacklist anyone can add anything to. (Visit Save Your Internet to tell your MEP to vote against this)

These filters are supposed to stop copyright infringement (in practice, infringers find it easy to get around filters, though), and they're going to have to accept thousands of new entries at a time (Disney and Corbis will want to upload their whole catalogues, not pay data-entry clerks to upload every work in their vaults one at a time), and those new entries will have to go into effect immediately (companies whose new releases have leaked onto the internet won't tolerate a delay of days or even hours while a human being reviews their submissions).

Combine these facts — anyone can add anything to the blacklists, new blacklist entries can be added in bulk, the new entries are in effect the instant they're added — and it's easy to see how malicious and unscrupulous actors will be able to censor the web with impunity.

Any politician who commits a gaffe just before an election; any celeb or billionaire caught saying or doing something cruel; any fringe group wanting to suppress evidence of their harassment or violent deeds will be able to send bots to submit copyright claims to the major platforms faster than the human staff at the platforms could remove them, suppressing evidence of wrongdoing at crucial junctures.

There's not really any way around this. If you're going to filter billions of works that anyone can submit, and if the filters have to kick in as soon as works are added, then abusers will always have the advantage.

That said, it's important to note that the advocates for this plan rejected all proposals to punish people who fraudulently claimed copyright in works they didn't own: measures from fines to being excluded from making future copyright claims were rejected out of hand.

It's almost as though the people who claim to be defending the arts don't give a damn about free expression.

But more disturbing is targeted censorship: politicians have long abused takedown to censor embarrassing political revelations or take critics offline, as have violent cops and homophobic trolls.

These entities couldn't use Content ID to censor the whole Internet: instead, they had to manually file takedowns and chase their critics around the Internet. Content ID only works for YouTube — plus it only allows "trusted rightsholders" to add works wholesale to the notice and staydown database, so petty censors are stuck committing retail copyfraud.

But under Article 13, everyone gets to play wholesale censor, and every service has to obey their demands: just sign up for a "rightsholder" account on a platform and start telling it what may and may not be posted. Article 13 has no teeth for stopping this from happening: and in any event, if you get kicked off the service, you can just pop up under a new identity and start again.

How the EU's Copyright Filters Will Make it Trivial For Anyone to Censor the Internet
[Cory Doctorow/Deeplinks]

(Image: Red Timmy, CC-BY)