After chaos, the EU's plan to censor the internet takes a huge step backwards

Yesterday, the European Union's "trilogue" met for what was supposed to be the last negotiating session on the new Copyright Directive, including the universal filters for all user-generated content and a ban on links to news-sites without a paid license; as recently as last week, the proponents of the Directive were predicting an easy victory and a vote by December 19th, but yesterday's meeting ended in chaos, with a draft that everyone hates.

The Directive wasn't always so controversial. Up until last spring — when the German MEP Alex Voss took over as rapporteur — the rules for linking to news had been expunged, and the rules for universal filters had been converted into a discussion of licensing terms between big entertainment companies and Big Tech.

But since Voss crammed these proposals back into the Directive, there has been chaos, with massive spending and intense lobbying, mostly by the entertainment industry and its allies in the collecting societies.

There's only one problem: the proposals are bonkers. The top scholars of the news media say that a right to control links will only cement the dominance of the legacy news media, while weakening the press overall. The world's most renowned technologists say that copyright filters are a stupid, dangerous, unworkable idea that is doomed to fail.

So Voss had to come up with "compromises" that would allow him to convince fellow MEPs that things weren't that bad. For example, he expunged all mention of "filters" from the filter rule, but still made it impossible for companies to avoid filters. He also allowed for minor exemptions for "microenterprises" that would maybe get some of them out from under the necessity of having filters.

These figleafs didn't fool his opponents, but they did let him advance the Directive through the Parliament and into the trilogue negotiations. However, the big rightsholder organisations hated even the appearance of compromise, and so first the movie companies and sports leagues denounced the Directive and asked to have their products removed from its scope, and then the music industry (who have been the strongest proponents of filters) completely condemned the process and called for a restart.

Voss has been whipping this process like mad in the hopes of concluding things in December, before the European Presidency switches from Austria to Romania. He's failed.

Now the trilogues will reconvene in January. In the meantime, opposition mounts: four million Europeans have signed a petition opposing the directive, and their numbers are growing.

As eurosceptic movements grow, the EU has lamented the lack of public interest in its doings: now, with the Directive pitting big business against popular will and expert advice, it has a chance to show that it is a responsive and responsible governing institution — or to discredit itself further by cramming through a corporate agenda to the detriment of 500,000,000 Europeans.

With European internet users, small business people, legal experts, technical experts, human rights and free speech experts all opposed to these proposals, we had hoped that they would be struck from the Trilogue's final draft. Now, they are blocking the passage of other important copyright reforms. Even Article 13 and 11's original advocates are realising how much they depend on a working Internet, and a remuneration system that might have a chance of working.

Still, the lobbying will continue over the holiday break. Some of the world's biggest entertainment and Internet companies will be throwing their weight around the EU to find a "compromise" that will keep no-one happy, and will exclude the needs and rights of individual Internet users, and European innovators. Read more about the Directive, and contact your MEPs and national governments at Save Your Internet.

Facing Criticism from All Sides, EU's Terrible Copyright Amendments Stumble into the New Year
[Cory Doctorow/EFF Deeplinks]