Planned Piracy Upload Filters are ‘Censorship Machines,’ MEPs Warn

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In a new campaign video, several Members of the European Parliament warn that the EU's proposed mandatory upload filters pose a threat to freedom of speech. The new filters would function as “censorship machines” which are "completely disproportionate," they say. The MEPs encourage the public to speak up, while they still can.

Through a series of new proposals, the European Commission is working hard to modernize EU copyright law. Among other things, it will require online services to do more to fight piracy.

These proposals have not been without controversy. Article 13 of the proposed Copyright Directive, for example, has been widely criticized as it would require online services to monitor and filter uploaded content.

This means that online services, which deal with large volumes of user-uploaded content, must use fingerprinting or other detection mechanisms – similar to YouTube’s Content-ID system – to block copyright infringing files.

The Commission believes that more stringent control is needed to support copyright holders. However, many legal scholars, digital activists, and members of the public worry that they will violate the rights of regular Internet users.

In the European Parliament, there is fierce opposition as well. Today, six Members of Parliament (MEPs) from across the political spectrum released a new campaign video warning their fellow colleagues and the public at large.

The MEPs warn that such upload filters would act as “censorship machines,” something they’ve made clear to the Council’s working group on intellectual property, where the controversial proposal was discussed today.

“Imagine if every time you opened your mouth, computers controlled by big companies would check what you were about to say, and have the power to prevent you from saying it,” Greens/EFA MEP Julia Reda says.

“A new legal proposal would make this a reality when it comes to expressing yourself online: Every clip and every photo would have to be pre-screened by some automated ‘robocop’ before it could be uploaded and seen online,” ALDE MEP Marietje Schaake adds.

Stop censorship machines!

Schaake notes that she has dealt with the consequences of upload filters herself. When she uploaded a recording of a political speech to YouTube, the site took it down without explanation. Until this day, the MEP still doesn’t know on what grounds it was removed.

These broad upload filters are completely disproportionate and a danger for freedom of speech, the MEPs warn. The automated systems make mistakes and can’t properly detect whether something’s fair use, for example.

Another problem is that the measures will be relatively costly for smaller companies ,which puts them at a competitive disadvantage. “Only the biggest platforms can afford them – European competitors and small businesses will struggle,” ECR MEP Dan Dalton says.

The plans can still be stopped, the MEPs say. They are currently scheduled for a vote in the Legal Affairs Committee at the end of March, and the video encourages members of the public to raise their voices.

“Speak out …while you can still do so unfiltered!” S&D MEP Catherine Stihler says.

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