The fight over the EU's Copyright Directive was the biggest fight in European political history: more than 100,000 people marched against it in 50 cities; more than 5,000,000 people signed a petition against it, and ultimately the Directive only squeaked into law because (Jesus Fucking Christ I can't believe I'm about to type this) five Swedish MEPs got confused pressed the wrong button (seriously kill me now).
No European politician was more important to the struggle than Julia Reda, the German Pirate Party MEP who is stepping down ahead of European elections next May, after five years of effective, dedicated service.
On the eve of her departure, Reda has published her postmortem on the Directive and what it means. It's an uplifting and important missive, one that draws a distinction between the incredible political malpractice from European politicians who continue to treat the internet as though it were a video-on-demand service, or a jihadi recruiting tool, or a pornography distribution system; and the mass-scale, unprecedented popular perception that the internet is our planetary, species-wide electronic nervous system, whose regulation needs to take account of all that we do online, not just one industry or lobby's corner of it.
We are living through an all-out, global blitz on online free speech, privacy, competition and self-determination, a realtime Chinafication of the western internet, and the past year has set us back a decade or more. But as Reda notes, the difference between the fight now and the fight a decade ago is the size of the army we're fighting with: the cause of online freedom has a self-recruiting mass movement of people, more of whom wake up every day and realize that their future is tied to the internet's future.
A novel alliance of digital rights NGOs, political parties and social media personalities succeeded in politicising and mobilising an entire generation of digital natives. Countless people rose to new challenges: Entertainment YouTubers suddenly found themselves in the role of reporters or political commentators, internet users became activists and organisers, and many participated in the first protests of their lives. These experiences will leave a lasting impact.
The protest was so effective that it compelled both parties in the German government to declare that they would at least mitigate some of the problems in the national implementation of the law. A misguided idea for a Directive that was intended to establish a “digital single market” – that is, to harmonize national laws. Nevertheless, it’s an admission of how well-founded our criticisms were, and an affirmation of how far we have come: Thanks of our efforts, nobody can afford to take political responsibility for upload filters any longer. The initial arrogance of conservative MEPs has been replaced by sheepish concessions – or lip service, at least.
EU copyright reform: Our fight was not in vain [Julia Reda]