Exactly what is Article 13 and why should you care about yet another piece of EU law?

Article 13 is one part of a proposed European Union (EU) copyright legislation created to better protect creativity and help in finding effective ways for copyright holders to protect and be remunerated for their content online (Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market).

At the moment if it is established that copyrighted material has been uploaded to a social media platform (such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, SoundCloud, Dailymotion, Reddit or Snapchat) they all use a ‘notice-and-takedown system’, where content is removed after notice has been served. The onus is on the copyright holder to inform a content host. They must then expeditiously remove or disable access to that content to comply with the current system.

Article 13 would mean that these platforms are liable at the point of upload for any content infringement from their users, creators or artists.

There is also an Article 11, which has been dubbed the Link Tax, which provides mechanisms for news sources to charge license fees if their content is linked to by a third party. For example, Google News and Facebook often show news stories directly on their sites so a user doesn’t need to click through to the source site. This can result in a reduction in traffic to the news site, so potentially less advertising revenue for the site in question.

What could this mean for SEO and content marketing?

From an SEO perspective links are still an important factor in where a website ranks in Search Engines for search queries. So, while Article 11 is specifically targeting news aggregators, this would make linking out to external content a hazier legal issue. The detail has not yet been defined, so they have yet to determine what makes a news site and what constitutes an actual link.

This uncertainty in being able to link to content could have a direct impact on content marketing and external quotations/ citations to support your content.

The risks of just accepting uploaded content – particularly those with partial or disputed copyright issues – would be significant for a site such as YouTube. This could then result in content platforms within the EU having to block vast amounts of existing and new video content, drastically limiting what could be uploaded to these platforms.

It’s just illegal content, isn’t it?

Existing law relies on copyright owners spotting infringements and contacting the host to request the content be taken down (because users are accessing that content without the creator/ artist receiving any payment). Meanwhile, the hosting platforms generate additional traffic and revenue through advertising – without paying for that content.

Article 13 may have a much wider impact than just restricting the uploading of unlicensed or pirated content; it could directly restrict the uploading of educational videos that may reference external material, many official music videos, fan music covers, reviews, mashups, comedy parodies, memes and more.

The voice of dissent is strong

While it is no surprise that the CCIA – a lobbying group of internet content giants whose members include Google, Facebook, eBay, Amazon, & Netflix – are against this law being passed, others are too. This EU law explicitly excludes Wikipedia and GitHub from these rules, but they are both maintaining their opposition to it. A GitHub spokesman said, “this proposal could threaten the future of open source and software development in general.” (Ref: GitHub Blog)

Susan Wojcicki (YouTube CEO) has blogged that Article 13 – by preventing millions of people to upload content – could threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs, including European creators, businesses, artists and everyone they employ. She also points out that copyright owners can disagree over who owns what rights, so if the owners cannot agree then how can open platforms that host this content make the correct rights decisions?

Existing copyright systems aren’t robust

Systems such as Content ID exist so that content already has copyright information attached, but this is not fully implemented so in many cases copyright information is partial or missing altogether. This makes it impossible for an automated system to identify all copyrighted material correctly all the time and any piece of content with partial or missing copyright information must be treated the same as unlicensed content and blocked.

When even the internet’s original architects and pioneers (such as Tim Berners Lee) write open letters of protest to the EU arguing that this law would force increased censorship and monitoring of the internet, it is surely time to seriously consider whether this is the correct approach to the protection of copyright laws for online content.

Donal Langan, Head of SEO