The EU’s new, comprehensive new Copyright Directive passed the European Parliament ensuring the way we use the Internet will change in the future.
And not for the better.
The controversial parts are Articles 11 and 13, the “link tax” and the “upload filter” requirements. For a good run down of how terrible these new rules are look anywhere on the internet but this article at Gizmodo (who I hope doesn’t charge me a link tax for doing so!) will do.
I would also watch this video from Dave Cullen, a resident of Ireland, i.e. the EU, as to what he thinks this means.
Dave makes a number of fantastic points about the ramifications of Articles 11 and 13 which I will not dispute.
The arrogance and pig-headedness of EU MEPs to push this through without even listening to arguments for Amendments speaks volumes as to how much this legislation was bought and paid for.
And you know who was doing the buying. The same folks currently behind destroying Brexit — The Davos Crowd. I don’t want to put too fine a point on this now, since I’ve covered all this recently (here) and in the past (here ).
Controlling The Wire
But there are very valid reasons why this push for control of information flow from the EU is yet another example of their desperations to keep control of what I’ve in the past called The Wire:
In short, The Wire is the main conduit through which we communicate with each other. Even money is The Wire. What are prices if not information about what we are willing to part with our money in exchange for?
Without The Wire modern society fails. So, government can’t shut it down but neither can it allow unrestrained access to it.
Electricity, commerce, communications, everything, goes over The Wire.
This isn’t a radical concept but like all important ideas, once it is presented to you you can’t unsee it.
Control of The Wire is the only fight that matters or has ever mattered in society. The Internet is The Wire writ large. Therefore, it only makes sense that control of it is paramount to maintaining any control over society at large.
The corporate oligarchs are in fear for their projects. They want desperately to maintain control. They’ve worked for decades to evolve the nation-state into the new shiny transnational superstate the EU exemplifies.
The new Copyright Directive is designed to erect barriers-to-entry and shut down opposition speech by outsourcing the enforcement to the platforms hosting the material.
And those platforms are only too happy to do this because they get to crowd out any potential competition. So, while their costs increase slightly, they are now immune to the competition which would grind out their margins to zero over time, as any unfettered market would.
Remember, that in all human endeavors profit is an ever-elusive thing. With incentives properly aligned someone is always attracted to the profit someone else is achieving and will figure out a way to build a better mousetrap, as it were, grinding out that profit.
If you can short-circuit this process via control of The Wire then you can guarantee a profit for your past work for far longer than you would otherwise.
This is known as rent.
Fake Property, False Choices
This is why the music and film industry want their IP protected from ‘fair use’ policies. They see the plummeting margins and want to continue charging on a per use/listen/view basis things they retain the copyright to far beyond the public’s willingness to pay them.
It’s too expensive for these companies to go after us individually. That doesn’t work except in very limited ways. Yes, they can de-platform Alex Jones or Sargon of Akkad ad hoc but with predictable backlash against it.
Enshrining it in law takes this, however, to another level. And it is a yet another Hobson’s Choice put before people to either accept regulation of these companies as public utilities — ensuring their monopoly status — or render the internet unusable.
This Directive is pure protectionism of legacy media producers be it news, music, film, etc. whose business models haven’t just collapsed they’re literally now subsidized by other profitable industries, i.e. the Washington Post is, effectively, an Amazon company.
So, in effect, Article 11 and 13 are just typical corporatist honey pots, at least in theory.
But it is all bad? Is the future to be this and more laws and controls like this?
Let’s look specifically at the link tax. To do this we have to look at a worst-case scenario where the EU disregards all cross-border treaty and tax-enforcement issues and our governments go along with this nonsense.
So, I want to link to an article in Der Speigel to make some point about Angela Merkel.
To do so now, under Article 13, I have to get a license to link from them and pay a fee. Let’s call that fee €100. Instead of paying that fee my natural reaction would be to not link to it and just make reference to it.
I’ll quote it and not put in a link.
If that doesn’t work and WordPress takes my post down, I’ll screencap the relevant section of the article (4chan-style) and then not link to it. This requires a more sophisticated sniffer to figure out what I did.
And in the worst case if they figure that out, I’ll simply not even quote them anymore. And I’ll write the article in such a way that I don’t need to. They don’t get the traffic anymore. They never got the license fee.
The result is they fall in the Google search rankings.
And I get to keep my traffic up and my audience happy.
Who wins here? Me or them?
Especially if I keep my link license fee set for my content at what it’s worth, zero.
To me a link is free advertising. I know that each one is a gift that pays huge dividends. I cherish people who contact me for permission to scrape my work.
The whole point of what I do is to reach as wide an audience as possible. Why would I put up barriers to that?
You have to put this in perspective. Ninety five percent of the news you read is a restatement of a government or corporate press release. If you think someone can’t reprint government or corporate press releases for less than €100 a head you are crazy.
Just like it is in retail sales. Amazon is killing local retailers because easily cross-shopped items are simply more efficiently delivered without a brick and mortar storefront. The costs of maintaining it and people going to the central location is a waste of scarce, precious capital.
It’s an old model without a future.
News organizations that don’t add anything but only disseminate the same stuff but with a slightly different spin on it won’t be able to charge a dime for links. Functionally, for 95% of news, is there any difference between Yahoo!, MSN, CNN or FOX?
If you produce something that is value-added people will figure out a way to justify to themselves paying for it. Advertising covers some of that cost. If they don’t it isn’t lost revenue, it was revenue you never had in the first place at that price.
In the Internet business eyeballs are everything. Losing eyeballs for link taxes is just bad business.
The Last War
So the EU just gave these sclerotic, dying industries everything they’ve ever wanted. But, in the long run, it will be their undoing as it will incentivize an entire generation of citizen journalists to fill in the niches and do primary research.
Moreover, it will be unenforceable at any practical level, as Dave Cullen points out. The EU will itself cause a cratering of traffic to and from its IP ranges.
As the cost of The Wire drops on a per megabyte basis, think 5G, so too does the cost to resist control of it. Lower bandwidth costs makes possible peer-to-peer networking and decentralized autonomous organizations that even the most hardened crypto-enthusiast haven’t conceived of yet.
And once there are no middle men to go after and turn into the copyright police, we’re back to them going after individuals again. At that point it’s game over.
That’s a long way off at this point and the present will be difficult, at best, to navigate. But we’re not flat-footed here. I do feel for guys like Dave Cullen who build great content and now are looking at real constraints.
I don’t envy them in the slightest.
But to me this feels like just another desperation move by old men fighting the last war to hold onto The Wire that’s slipping out of their fingers, writing laws out of date before they are even implemented.