Online Censorship Is Coming–Here’s How to Stop It

EU Copyright Directive

EU's upload filters are coming. Why and how the Open Source world must fight them.

A year ago, I warned about some terrible copyright legislation being drawn up in the EU that would have major adverse effects on the Open Source world. Its most problematic provision would force many for-profit sites operating in the EU to use algorithmic filters to block the upload of unauthorized material by users. As a result of an unprecedented campaign of misinformation, smears and outright lies, supporters managed to convince/trick enough Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to vote in favour of the the new Copyright Directive, including the deeply flawed upload filters.

A number of changes were made from the original proposals that I discussed last year. Most important, "open source software development and sharing platforms" are explicitly excluded from the scope of the requirement to filter uploads. However, it would be naïve to assume that the Copyright Directive is now acceptable, and that free software will be unaffected.

Open source and the open internet have a symbiotic relationship—each has fed constantly into the other. The upload filters are a direct attack on the open internet, turning it into a permissioned online space. They will create a censorship system that past experience shows is bound to be abused by companies and governments alike to block legitimate material. It would be a mistake of the highest order for the Open Source community to shrug its shoulders and say: "we're okay—not our problem." The upload filters are most definitely the problem of everyone who cares about the open and healthy internet, and about freedom of speech. For example, the GitHub blog points out that false positives are likely to be a problem when upload filters are implemented—regardless of nominal "exemptions" for open source: "When a filter catches a false positive and dependencies disappear, this not only breaks projects—it cuts into software developers' rights as copyright holders too."

So, what can be done?

As the Pirate MEP Julia Reda emphasises in her post summarizing the multi-year battle to improve the text of the Copyright Directive: "My message to all who took part in this movement: Be proud of how far we came together! We've proven that organised citizens can make an impact—even if we didn't manage to kill the whole bill in the end. So don't despair!" Specifically: