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The 2012 Web Blackout Helped Stop SOPA/PIPA And Then ACTA; Here Comes The 2019 Version To Stop Article 13

DATE POSTED:March 15, 2019

Remember SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect IP Act)? Back in 2012, they threatened to cause widespread damage to the online world by bringing in yet more extreme and unbalanced measures against alleged copyright infringement. Things looked pretty bad until a day of massive online protest was organized on January 18, 2012, with thousands of sites partially or totally blacked out. Politicians were taken aback by the unexpected scale of the anger, and their support for SOPA and PIPA crumbled quickly. That success fuelled protests in Europe against ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), which also sought to bring in harsh measures against online infringement. After tens of thousands of people took part in street demonstrations across Europe, many politicians wanted nothing to do with the by-now toxic proposal, and it was voted down in the European Parliament in July 2012.

As Techdirt pointed out last year, the proposed EU Copyright Directive is even worse than ACTA. As such it clearly merits serious, large-scale action of the kind that stopped SOPA/PIPA and ACTA. And it's happening. The German-language version of Wikipedia, the second-largest by number of articles, has announced the following (original in German):

On Thursday, March 21, the German-language edition of the online encyclopedia will be shut down completely for 24 hours. In this way, Wikipedia activists want to send a signal, in particular against the introduction of the controversial Articles 11 and 13 in the [EU's] copyright reform.

It is expected that a number of other major sites will be joining in the protest. Meanwhile, another German organization is campaigning against Article 13. In an open letter to MEPs, its supporters write:

We are the operators and administrators of more than 400 German-language discussion forums with more than 18 million members. We are united by the great concern that the EU Copyright Directive will endanger the existence of our forums and thus the discussion culture on the Internet.

The public discussion on the EU Copyright Directive revolves almost exclusively around YouTube and other large US platforms. In doing so, we lose sight of the fact that discussion forums of all sizes will also be affected by the new directive.

That's an important point. Supporters of Article 13 try to give the impression that only deep-pocketed companies like Google will be hit by the new law. As the discussion forum operators point out, their organizations will not be exempt from the requirements of the EU Copyright Directive. Its effects will be devastating:

Because of these uncertainties and the legal and financial liability risk, many discussion forums will close, as small associations or voluntary operators cannot bear this situation. Commercial operators are also endangered in their existence if they have to conclude fee-based licenses and are obliged to install expensive upload filters.

Uncertain regulations for us means years of legal uncertainty, legal risk and potential legal costs, which no operator can afford in the long run as forums usually do not generate a large amount of revenue.

As a result, the discussion culture on the European Internet will be severely impaired, and many citizens will lose their digital home in discussion forums.

Internet startups in the EU will face the same insurmountable problems thanks to Article 13's impossible demands. Many will be forced to shut down. It's an irony that many have already pointed out. A law that supporters claim is designed to tackle the disproportionate power of companies like Google and Facebook will end up entrenching them more deeply, and wiping out much of the EU's own digital ecosystem. Let's hope 2019's big blackout grabs people's attention as the one in 2012 did, and that MEPs drop Article 13 just as they dropped ACTA.

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