May 21, 2019

For people who keep up with internet buzz, Article 13 has been a hot topic of discussion for some time now. But for those of us who spend more time laughing at memes than reading about the future of the internet, it’s important that we have some basic knowledge of how Article 13 will impact the digital landscape.

When you Google search “Article 13 copyright”, nearly 3 billion results are generated. For comparison, a search for “Elon Musk” generates 124,000,000 results. You could spend a lifetime sifting through all of the information and analyses around this complex copyright issue. For the sake of brevity, we will examine Article 13 through the relationship between YouTube and the music industry. 


The Heart of the Matter: Copyright Infringement and Compensation

The music industry has been instrumental in pushing for tighter regulation of copyright infringement which has resulted in this legislation. The recording industry is seeking compensation for its artists when their work is used in content that’s uploaded to for-profit content sharing platforms like YouTube and Facebook.

Oftentimes, users will use a copyrighted song as the soundtrack to a personal video without paying the artist. Imagine that a dancer uploads their latest choreography that is set to a chart-topping track, and the video goes viral, resulting in significant ad revenue. How does the artist of that song get compensated? This type of infringement can become even more problematic when the user attempts to monetize their video. Now, YouTube and the user are both profiting from the song with the artist receiving zero compensation.

The current policy, set under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), known as Safe Harbor, requires YouTube to alert the user to the issue and in some cases, take the video down. If Article 13 passes into law, the music artist can sue both the video creator and the platform, moving more of the onus from the user to the platform.


Is Article 13 the Answer?

A set of solutions has been floated by the content-sharing platforms to address the copyright concerns at hand. A few examples of the proposed solutions are, a prepayment system for the use of copyrighted materials, terminating service completely in regions affected by Article 13, and the utilization of advanced microfilters that would block copyrighted material.

There are concerns associated with each of these proposed solutions. For instance, if microfilters are set up, there are going to be false positives - lots of them. Recently, someone posted a recording of white noise to YouTube and the platform’s existing filters flagged it for copyright infringement. Clearly there are some kinks to work out with all of the proposed solutions.

The advancement of this article through the legislative process has caused many internet players to ring alarm bells. The best example being Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who raised concerns around how these copyright regulations could potentially marginalize many voices and limit the open web. Many fear that Article 13 will result in an internet that is no longer a space for users to create freely and share their work. It could eliminate derivative work, which has been the foundation of all art forms since the beginning of time. Art builds on that which has come before it.

The intention behind Article 13 at its most basic level, is to ensure that copyright owners are properly compensated for the use of their assets in any instance. Most of us can agree that musicians, photographers, inventors, and all other creators should be compensated for the use of their original works. Still, many questions remain around how we can translate laws and regulations for the digital age while also maintaining competitive, innovative, and open markets. It seems that nobody has the perfect solution yet, but as long as this conversation continues, we have hope that a fair solution for all will be developed.