The Age of Robocopyright?

Photo by Rock’n Roll Monkey on Unsplash

The European Parliament is set to vote next week on a proposed new law: the copyright directive. Article 13 is part of that law, and applies to “certain uses of protected content by online services.”

The world contemplated by Article 13 is a whole other Internet.

It would require websites and content platforms, like Medium, to use “content recognition technologies” to “to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders.” In other words, to monitor and preemptively filter things that look like potential copyright infringement from content uploaded by users (leading some to call this a “robo-copyright” regime).

We built Medium to be a tool for creators. A clean, well-lit space for writing, and a smooth interface for getting your ideas out of your head and out there in the world. We’ve built features intended to foster an environment of respect for copyright, such as our partnership with Unsplash that helps writers draw on public domain images for their posts, and by providing tools to help writers license their works under Creative Commons terms.

We believe this proposal by the EU threatens to disrupt your ability to create and share your work through Medium. We know that for many of you, telling stories means drawing on all kinds of found material like images, snippets, and quotations, and turning them into (to name a few) mashups, collages, and memes. And you rely on the expression-enabling limitations built into copyright, like fair use, to do it.

Article 13 would mean that Medium would have to build or buy technology that would filter what you write and upload, and prevent you from publishing some of it. Automatic filters, we fear, would stifle this open creative environment. For example, a false positive hit on your image or sound file or writing as potentially infringing would mean that we would have to block you from uploading it. And while innovation in machine learning and artificial intelligence regularly astounds us, we believe that no existing technology is good enough to understand fair use or accurate enough to be trusted as a gatekeeper of expression. When it comes to creativity, false positives even in small numbers are not just a statistic — they are words that will never be read, images that will never be seen, ideas that may never spread, and creations that could die on the vine.

This is not the relationship we want between you, Medium, and the tools we make for you. We built Medium to help you create and read, not to monitor or stymie you. We support a balanced copyright law that will allow creators control and ensure they can get paid for what they create, but also one that allows creators (often the same ones on the same day) to comment on, repurpose, parody, or adapt materials to their purposes as part of the creative cycle.

We believe Article 13 is misguided and threatens to upset the delicate balance that makes for functional copyright law by pushing content platforms to impose technical restrictions on you at the moment of creation.

EU policymakers want and need to hear from creators.

On June 20–21, the European Parliament will vote on the Copyright Directive. We urge all Medium users located in Europe to contact your Member and explain why you oppose Article 13. Especially if you write or work with images on Medium — explain how upload filters will affect your ability to create and share your work widely and immediately.

All the information and every tool you need to reach out to your representatives have been compiled at https://saveyourinternet.eu/.

Article 13 would move us towards an Internet that is potentially vastly different and far less open to creativity. Please, take a minute to email, call, tweet, or use any other mode of expression to contact your Member of Parliament.

Lawyer, writer, dreamer, doer.