THE EUROPEAN UNION has come up with a final version of the controversial trifector of copyright laws that are seen as a significant threat to internet freedom.
The Copyright Directive overhaul has been in the planning for some time, but the latest iteration has been described by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) as "worse than any in the Directive's sordid history".
Under the new rules, any company over three years old or making more than €10m is completely responsible for content on their site, and any infractions that their users make are completely on them.
The EFF believes that the only way that this could possibly be done is through the use of expensive, automated copyright filters which would not cope with the subtle nuances of things like "fair use" and would simply ramraid their way through.
More importantly, this tech will be way out of the budget of all but the richest companies, making smaller homegrowns and startups vulnerable to prosecution they can't afford. Result: the big get bigger, the small go to jail.
The ever-fickle entertainment industry has assurance too; everyone must make their "best efforts" to license anything uploaded, which means the potential that this might have to happen retroactively, with the upshot that some expensive licences could cripple unwitting website owners.
For us, that's bad news as we'll have to be even more careful that we already are to ensure that the photos illustrating our stories are in the public domain.
But it gets worse for us (and all other news sites) because we'd have to licence any quotes that we take from our colleagues - and them from us, which will get very expensive.
Worse still, the rules still apply, even if there's no income stream from the website.
It has been estimated that traffic to news sites could drop by up to 45 per cent if the rules are enforced, as a gentleman's agreement to share content, with appropriate credit, is bulldozed.
The vote will take place between 25-28 March or 15-18 April, but the EFF is not resting on its laurels as it campaigns for further review of a law that could change the internet forever. Hopefully, however, the 11 countries expressing doubt will vote with their feet.
That said, with Brexit still hanging in mid-air, we don't know if this will apply to UK firms anyway. Another detail that we won't know until all this dust has settled. μ
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