After thunder comes rain, so the infamous copyright directive was finally approved by the European Parliament on 26 March 2019.
With the usual excuse of “protecting authors and culture”, this directive, in fact, only protects the interests of large publishing groups to the detriment of those of independent content creators, does not promote freedom of information and creates an alibi for platforms to censor users.
Let us start with the first point.
Content aggregators will have to agree with the copyright owners of the content itself in order to be able to use it. A sacrosanct criterion, in principle, but one that does not justify the enactment of the directive. To prevent – let us say – Google from exploiting freely-pubished contents it is sufficient to put it behind a paywall without invoking specific regulations. However, by doing so, content providers would lose traffic and advertising revenues and, in all likelihood, the number of subscribers would not allow them to make a profit.
Which leads to the next step: why isn’t the paywall the solution?
Because users only pay for a service that they consider adequate to their needs or that they do not find elsewhere, but the “professional” content providers, obviously, do not want – or are not able to – produce them, staying content to position themselves next to personal blogs, social network profiles and the like that are everything but “professional information”.
Translated: if the product is poor, no one is willing to buy it.
On the other hand, and let’s come to another critical aspect of the directive: the provisions are not designed – and in any case arevirtually impossible to apply – for independent content creators who do not gain, by this Directive, greater protection than that which the law already guarantees them.
It would therefore have been more intellectually honest to define this directive as ‘rules to protect the content industry’ than to disguise it badly as a ‘weapon’ to protect culture.
Nor, as has also been said, does this reform serve to protect the freedom of information threatened by the services of “personalized news” that can manipulate consciences. It is a meaningless statement, because directing – more or less surreptitiously – the opinion of readers and viewers is exactly what the “traditional” media has always done.
Choosing what goes on the front page or in the opening credits or what to talk about and what to keep quiet about is by no means a neutral choice, but is the result of a declared editorial line or a (self-)imposed political diktat. In other words: the vertical control of information is already there and has always been (it is not by chance that Noam Chomski speaks of prop-agenda).
The real problem, on the other hand, is that the so-called “professional information” believed to have been blessed by the Gods with the monopoly of information, a monoply that it has interpreted in an increasingly self-referential way. But contrary to its belief, this “monopoly” has been snatched under its nose by blogs, social networks profiles and messaging platforms.
Finally, despite the verbal twists to deny it, the directive essentially requires content-sharing platforms to play an active role in relation to users and to verify what they make available online.
It is clear that, on the basis of the precautionary principle, service providers will be very diligent in blocking content or writing master contracts to the detriment of users, but finally with the opportunity to defend themselves against censorship charges by responding: “It’s not our fault: the copyright directive wants it!”
By transferring the power to decide what is legal or not to private entities (and often also to non-EU entities) and therefore, by taking it away from the judiciary, this directive takes another step towards the privatisation of justice.
The fight against copyright is better fought through faster judicial procedures – and possibly online – in which those who have committed an offence are individually and personally liable. And not through the demolition of the fundamental principles of the rule of law.