Ulrich Kelber is the German Data Privacy Commissioner, and also a computer scientist, and as such, he is uniquely qualified to comment on the potential consequences of the proposed new EU Copyright Directive, which will be voted on at the end of this month, and whose Article 13 requires that all online communities, platforms and services block their users from committing copyright infringement, even if the infringing materials are speedily removed after they are posted.
In a new official statement on the Directive (English translation), Kelber has warned that Article 13 will inevitably lead to the use of automated filters, because there is no conceivable way that the organisations that run online services could examine everything their users post and determine whether each message, photo, video, or audio clip is a copyright violation.
Kelber goes on to warn that this will exacerbate the already dire problem of market concentration in the tech sector, and expose Europeans to particular risk of online surveillance and manipulation.
That's because the smaller companies, based in the European Union, are required to block all infringement, even if they are very small and specialised (the Directive gives an online community three years' grace period before it acquires this obligation, less time if the service grosses €5m/year). These small- and medium-sized European services will not be able to afford to license the entire catalogues of the big movie, music, and book publishers, and will have to rely on filters to block all that material they can't license.
But these small companies also can't afford to build filters — Google's Content ID for Youtube cost a reported €100 million to build and run, and it only does a fraction of the blocking required under Article 13 — and that means that they'll have to buy filtering services from third parties. The most likely third parties to provide these filtering services are the US Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook, who, after all, will have to build and run filters anyway, and could recoup the cost of doing so by renting access to these filters to smaller competitors.
Another possible source of filtering services is companies that sell copyright enforcement tools like Audible Magic, who have spent lavishly to lobby in favour of filters (along with their competitors).
As Kelber explains, this means that Europeans who use European services in the EU will nevertheless likely have every public communication they make channeled into offshore tech companies' servers for analysis. These European services will likewise have to channel a potentially enormous slice of their revenues to the big US tech companies or specialist filter vendors.
Article 13, then, will guarantee these giant companies a permanent share of all small EU companies' revenues and access to an incredibly valuable data-stream generated by all European discourse, conversation, and expression. These companies will be able to capitalise on the data and revenue to enhance their dominance, giving them even more leverage over their European competitors.
Kelber says that this is the inevitable consequence of filters, and has called on the EU to explain how Article 13's requirements could be satisfied without filters. He's called for "a thoughtful overhaul" of the bill based on "data privacy considerations," describing the market concentration as a "clear and present danger."
"Even though upload filters are not explicitly mandated by the bill, they will be employed as a practical effect. Especially smaller platform operators and service providers will not be in a position to conclude license agreements with all [copy]right holders. Nor will they be able to make the software develoment effort to create upload filters of their own," Kelber writes.
"Instead, they will utilize offerings by large IT companies just the way it is already happening, for one example, in the field of analytics tools, where the relevant components created by Facebook, Amazon and Google are used by many apps, websites, and services."
German Data Privacy Commissioner Sounds Alarm Over 'Upload Filter Oligopoly [Andy/Torrentfreak]