Back in 2001, the European Parliament came together to pass regulations and set up copyright laws for the internet, a technology that was just finding its footing after the dot com boom and bust. Wikipedia had just been born, and there were 29 million websites. No one could imagine the future of this rapidly growing ecosystem — and today, the internet is even more complex. Over a billion websites, countless mobile apps, and billions of additional users. We are more interconnected than ever. We are more global than ever. But 17 years later, the laws that protect this content and its creators have not kept up with the exponential growth and evolution of the web.
Next week, the European Parliament will decide how information online is shared in a vote that will significantly affect how we interact in our increasingly connected, digital world. We are in the last few moments of what could be our last opportunity to define what the internet looks like in the future. The next wave of proposed rules under consideration by the European Parliament will either permit more innovation and growth, or stifle the vibrant free web that has allowed creativity, innovation, and collaboration to thrive. This is significant because copyright does not only affect books and music, it profoundly shapes how people communicate and create on the internet for years to come.
This is why we must remember the original objective for this update to the law: to make copyright rules that work for better access to a quickly-evolving, diverse, and open internet.
The very context in which copyright operates has changed completely. Consider Wikipedia, a platform which like much of the internet today, is made possible by people who act as consumers and creators. People read Wikipedia, but they also write and edit articles, take photos for Wikimedia Commons, or contribute to other Wikimedia free knowledge projects. Content on Wikipedia is available under a free license for anyone to use, copy, or remix.
Every month, hundreds of thousands of volunteers make decisions about what content to include on Wikipedia, what constitutes a copyright violation, and when those decisions need to be revised. We like it this way — it allows people, not algorithms, to make decisions about what knowledge should be presented back to the rest of the world.
Changes to the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market could have serious implications for Wikipedia and other independent and nonprofit websites like it.
The internet today is collaborative and open by nature. And that is why our representatives to the EU must institute policies that promote the free exchange of information online for everyone.
We urge EU representatives to support reform that adds critical protections for public domain works of art, history, and culture, and to limit new exclusive rights to existing works that are already free of copyright.
The world should be concerned about new proposals to introduce a system that would automatically filter information before it appears online. Through pre-filtering obligations or increased liability for user uploads, platforms would be forced to create costly, often biased systems to automatically review and filter out potential copyright violations on their sites. We already know that these systems are historically faulty and often lead to false positives. For example, consider the experience of a German professor who repeatedly received copyright violation notices when using public domain music from Beethoven, Bartók, and Schubert in videos on YouTube.
The internet has already created alternative ways to manage these issues. For instance, Wikipedia contributors already work hard to catch and remove infringing content if it does appear. This system, which is largely driven by human efforts, is very effective at preventing copyright infringement.
Much of the conversation surrounding EU copyright reform has been dominated by the market relationships between large rights holders and for-profit internet platforms. But this small minority does not reflect the breadth of websites and users on the internet today. Wikipedians are motivated by a passion for information and a sense of community. We are entirely nonprofit, independent, and volunteer-driven. We urge MEPs to consider the needs of this silent majority online when designing copyright policies that work for the entire internet.
As amendments to the draft for a new Copyright Directive are considered, we urge the European Parliament to create a copyright framework that reflects the evolution of how people use the internet today. We must remember the original problem policymakers set out to solve: to bring copyright rules in line with a dramatically larger, more complex digital world and to remove cross-border barriers. We should remain true to the original vision for the internet — to remain an open, accessible space for all.
María Sefidari, Chair of the Board of Trustees