Amelia Andersdotter :: hem : saker : föreläsningar : texter : om : arkiv : english

Copyright discussions in the EU: fear, hate and pain

This was originally published on Facebook in the autumn of 2018 after copyright votes in the parliament. The account is removed now, but the text remains.

A few weeks ago most people I know, and a whole lot of Swedish people that I don't know at all, reacted with shock and horror to the European parliament decision to approve copyright proposals that give social media platforms a duty to monitor their users with upload filters, and blogs, search engines and other web services the duty to sign license agreements with publishers in order to legally user hyperlinks.

All Swedish members of the European Parliament except the Social Democrats and the Feminists voted against the copyright proposal. Sweden, in fact, had the largest proportion of national EU Parliament members rejecting the proposal of any EU countries. For Swedish people, knowing that 75% of their representatives don't think this is a good idea at all, the question is therefore why it anyway turns out like this?

I propose that it's partially a problem of industrial policy (politicians in continental Europe are jealous of successful and profitable American web industries) and security policy (the internet has been described in Europe as "Neuland"[1] and the EU was declared a "colonie du monde numérique"[2] just a few years ago). Copyright of the form approved by the EU Parliament is a way of protecting digital sovereignty and domestic industries. Even if in Sweden this is not immediately obvious - our government (citizens of Sweden too, perhaps) often denies that the EU could even possess industrial policy interests, even if Swedish industrial policy was the primary motivating factor for joining the EU in the 1990s - it is immediately obvious to all French and German EU deputies.

The copyright question, therefore, touches upon issues like "What is the EU?" and "what should the EU be doing for our economy/security?" The German-French-led coalition of deputies in the EU Parliament have landed in the conclusion that the EU should be forcing American web platforms to perform extensive control measures against their European users, in order that European big media companies should get a share of the American web platforms' profits.

It's not the most intuitive solution, and it certainly creates a few social problems. One is prompted to reflect on whether there really were no other good ideas in all of Europe on how to advance the European economy or security?

This takes me to my other partial explanation: the debate climate. In the EU, many of us watch TV and laugh every time we believe ourselves to be seeing something that is obviously worse in the US than that it is here. For example school shootings and gun control. From a European perspective, it is nigh on impossible to understand how a relative minority, like the National Rifle Association (NRA), can capture the entire political process and make impossible every form of discussion about conditions for sales of even very specific and seemingly advanced fire arms. The NRA is portrayed as an angry, but loud, minority. I posit that we have a similar angry, and loud, minority in the EU, constituted by collecting socities and those who call themselves creators.

More than a decade before cyberbullying and gamergate became trending topics, I had been called a leech, murderer and thief. A non-negligible part of everyone I know have also received the most shocking forms of personal insults. Not just from anonymous nobodies in Facebook threads or on Twitter, but in parliamentary hearings, in respectable journals and in mass media. There is an aggressive, loud minority with access to the public space that are using this access to spread vitriol and force obedience from politicians. Not submitting oneself to their worldview can even lead to allegations of subservience to a "mild form of terrorism"[3].

More recently, these accusations incorporate the insinuation that anyone who disagrees with the loud, aggressive minority is in the pockets of the American web services that threaten European industry and security -- in particular, anyone who is not subdued by their threats is obviously manipulated by Google. Andres Guadamuz, law professor at Sussex university, has written an excellent account of the use of this insinuation to denigrate researchers', the public's and public interest institutions' knowledge, concerns and engagement[4].

I argue these are the institutional mechanisms: an idea of what the EU is, in terms of economic and security policy, forged by an aggressive, loud minority of individuals with strong access to mass media. But if we can trace, at least approximately, what are the mechanisms behind this proposal - what can we do?

I believe it's important to understand the forces at work on the people we seek to influence. A small, but loud and extremely aggressive, minority of special intersts have convinced a majority of EU deputies that it is the adopted copyright proposal that will best guarantee the future economy and security of Europe. Drowning out this loud and aggressive minority, while at the same time avoiding the many threatening labels they stick on political opponents, is very difficult.

In my soul, I want to believe a positive attitude is enough. European citizens should obviously be allowed to communicate with each other across European borders, and exchange cultural references without being stuck in negotiations with copyright lawyers for years on end. For good or bad, the aspects of web technology that is prohibited by copyright legislation, have also been the aspects of web technology that most EU citizens have as a common cultural reference frame. This common reference frame is a positive thing: it has the potential to create the European polity necessary for the EU if it seeks to have public - democratic - legitimacy.

The internet and the web arose after the fall of the wall. The Europeans that participated in building the culture of European copyright infringement were the post-wall generation, and they built a European polity. Their activism seeks to ensure the ability of European citizens to photograph buildings in every European nation, and for European libraries to be able to make accessible cultural heritage with no undue restraints. They seek for European small and medium-sized companies, teachers, students and researchers to have access to culture without being burdened by impossibly expensive and time-consuming license negotiations that they typically lack the economic and legal skills to perform.

In my head, it's not obvious that a positive attitude is enough. The loud, aggressive minority were the first haters on the net, or perhaps haters of the net, and they are backed by many decades of tradition, much financial capital and they've already captured the legislature. The strongest ally for love of the net in the whole of the European Union is by now the populist prime minister of Italy, Luigi Di Maio (M5S), who declared the copyright proposals a "shame for Europe, with preventive censorship"[5].

The road towards a Europe where ordinary people are not declared thieves, leeches, murderers or soft terrorists by their cultural role models and politicians when they engage in peaceful, calm building of cross-border friendship and normal, polity-building use of culture for archives, teaching, research, or entrepreneurship, probably needs support from a broader base of leaders than anti-European populists to tip the scale.

To me, the use of copyright infringement on the internet as a powerful tool for European integration was made evident during a visit in the Republic of Moldova in 2012. I met a young, Russian Debian-programmer (our only lingua franca being modest Romanian), with whom I shared very few references - except for our understanding of the moral duties of any torrent user to the cultural wealth of the network[6].

[1] Angela Merkel in press conference with Barack Obama, 19. June 2013.

[2] L'Union européenne, colonie du monde numérique? Rapport d'information de Mme Catherine MORIN-DESAILLY.

[3] MEP Marielle Gallo, intervju i PCInpact, juni 2012. Translated into English here:

[4] Andrez Guadamuz (Technollama), What can the Copyright Directive vote tell us about the state of digital rights? Juli 2018.

[5] "L'Unione Europea censura e tassa gli utenti Internet, é una vergogna"

[6] Amelia Andersdotter, opening statement at the Internet Governance Forum in Baku, 2012.