The European Parliament's threat to TVmaze and the open internet

Yeah, it's that time of the month again: a major government or political institution somewhere around the world is trying to destroy the internet as we know it.
We know, it's getting tiresome and you're too fatigued to even care anymore at this point. But please bare with us, this time it's particularly nasty towards websites like TVmaze and we need all the attention we can get to stop these plans before it's too late.

Fine, what is it all about this time, you ask? For the past year, the European Parliament has been working on a proposal for revamped copyright laws: Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. This is not a bad thing per se, Europe's existing copyright laws are quite outdated and never really accounted for the digital era. However, lobbyists managed to sneak in two very dangerous parts, the infamous Article 11 and Article 13. Article 11, the link tax, is bad enough but for brevity we'll focus this blog on Article 13 instead. If you want to read more about the proposed link tax, check out a resource like https://savethelink.org/.

While Article 11 would be bad, Article 13 would be devastating to websites that thrive around user-generated content. User-generated content is obviously a big part of TVmaze, where a community of thousands of active editors work together to maintain the internet's best resource for everything TV related. But we're far from alone, the majority of the internet's most popular websites such as Youtube, Wikipedia and Reddit have been speaking up against Article 13 in recent months.

So what are some of the problems with Article 13? Quoting straight from the source:

  1. An online content sharing service provider shall obtain an authorisation from the rightholders (..), for instance by concluding a licencing agreement, in order to communicate or make available to the public works or other subject matter.

  2. If no authorisation is granted, online content sharing service providers shall be liable for unauthorised acts of communication (..), unless the service providers demonstrate that they have made (..) best efforts to ensure the unavailability of specific works and other subject matter for which the rightholders have provided the service providers with the relevant and necessary information. (..) They shall also demonstrate that they have made best efforts to prevent further uploads of the notified works and other subject matter for which the rightholders have provided relevant and necessary information.

  3. The cooperation between online content service providers and rightholders shall not result in the prevention of the availability of works or other subject matter uploaded by users which do not infringe copyright and related rights, including where such works or subject matter are covered by an exception or limitation.

What would this mean concretely for a website like TVmaze? (But remember, the same thing goes for every other website on the internet where users can upload/submit content such as databases, forums, wikis, social media, etcetera)

  1. We would be forced to proactively negotiate license agreements for all the content that could possibly ever be uploaded by one of our users. In practice, this means to reach an agreement with pretty much every rightholder in the world. To even attempt at satisfying this rule, we'd need a team with dozens of lawyers working around the clock negotiating with these various rightholders.

  2. For all possible content in the world that we did not specifically negotiate a license for, we would not only have to make sure that any occurence of such content on TVmaze is immediately made unavailable, but also make sure that it's impossible to ever re-upload this and similar content in the future. This means we would have to install upload filters that are smart enough to recognize and block almost every copyrighted work in the world. The engineering effort to accomplish this is so immense that it would take years of work and a budget of millions to even come close to complying.

  3. But it gets worse. All the while complying with #2, we would have to make sure that our upload filters are smart enough to recognize all possible exceptions and limitations in copyright law across 28 different European Union member states. Anyone familiar with Youtube's Content ID knows that even a company with a budget of billions is unable to create a system that's hailed by either rightholders or fair-use proponents. Creating an automated system that satisfies both #2 and #3 is straight up fairytale material.

TVmaze operates in good faith. We have a strict copyright policy that ensures we only allow content that rightholders want to be shared. We don't host or link to any illegal content. In the nearly 5 years that we've existed, the amount of copyright-related notifications that we've received can be counted on one hand. In all those cases, we've swiftly removed the content in question leaving all parties involved satisfied. We're a tiny company that barely generates enough revenue to cover our operational expenses. Yet, under the European Union's proposed laws it would only take a single complaint to potentially bankrupt us and put us out of business.

Actually complying with the rules set forth in the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is impossible for all but the largest companies in the world, with a budget sufficient to pay for the immense engineering effort required and to retain an army of lawyers to shield them from all legal consequences that will inevitably arise. For the 99% that is everybody else, the only option is to cease operations that involve user-generated content within the European Union.

If the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is passed, independent websites such as TVmaze will no longer exist within the European Union after next year. They will either close shop completely, move operations outside of Europe and block access to visitors from Europe, or disable all forms of user interaction. All of the user-generated content in Europe will be centralized in the hands of a few behemoth companies that are able to comply with the new law, crippling innovation, diversity and freedom of expression.

So where do we go from here? Well, the proposed law was merely written by a small delegation of 25 Members of the European Parliament (MEP), which doesn't even represent each of the European Union's member states, let alone that their opinion is representative for the entire European Parliament. The proposal is currently in its final stages, but before it can actually pass as law, there will be a plenary vote where all 751 MEP's can vote to reject the proposal. This vote will take place somewhere next week, likely on March 26. European elections are coming up in May, only two months from now, which means that your MEP's are currently very interested in what you have to say, especially if it might affect your voting behavior in May.

So to help prevent this draconian proposal from becoming reality, contact your local MEP's now and tell them that come May, you will not be voting for anyone who has helped to destroy the internet as we know it. Two great websites that can assist you with this are https://pledge2019.eu and https://saveyourinternet.eu/.

Thank you for reading this far, and we hope that you'll act before it's too late.

Written by david at Mar 22, 2019

Comments

david posted 25 days ago

This is a very sad day for Europe. Luckily we do have almost two years to prepare for this, and we'll do what we can to keep TVmaze accessible to our European friends. Thanks to everyone who did their best.

Jan posted 25 days ago

Here's a list on how the MPE's voted. https://juliareda.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/copyrightvote.pdf

JuanArango posted 25 days ago

That sucks, at least we got 2 years to prepare the move.

Jan posted 25 days ago

Sad news... parliament just voted..

348 in favor, 274 against

Jan posted 26 days ago

Anneleen Van Bossuyt has stated in a mail to us that she and her colleagues Mark Demesmaeker, Ralph Packet & Helga Stevens will be voting against article 13.

BersuRyvec posted 26 days ago

Maybe after losing access to a whole bunch of websites, EU citizens will finally impeach dummies who make such laws

Gadfly posted 28 days ago

I don't know any that aren't on TVMaze already, but okay.

Jan posted 28 days ago

@gadfly: share this information as much as possible. Motivate any EU residents you know to contact their MEPs.

ChiDeraa posted 29 days ago

Scary times.

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