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The Computer Corner

By Charles Miller

New EU Copyright Directive Can Affect US Users

Earlier this month, lawmakers for the European Union issued the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, a directive that essentially is a list of guidelines for each of the 28 EU member nations to use in enacting new laws to protect fledgling European technology companies against competition from US tech giants such as Apple, Google, Microsoft, et al.

As is all too often the case with governmental intervention, the new laws likely to come into force in the next few years in Europe may actually end up hurting the very companies they are meant to protect. Worse yet is the fact that history shows us that when that happens, we here in México will also suffer. That is something I will further clarify in closing.

Probably the biggest concern among online-content providers, including YouTube, Vimeo, and social media sites like Facebook amd Twitter is the suggestion to replace the “mere conduit” exemption from copyright infringement with much stricter penalties.

Under existing laws like the US’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, a website is not liable for copyright infringement committed by its users and is only obligated to remove the illegally-shared content. The EU directive seeks to penalize website owners, making them legally liable for the misconduct of all those who use the website.

Some of the big tech companies are already making good-faith efforts to police their users’ misbehavior: YouTube monitors copyright infringements using an automated filtering system called “Content ID,” which reportedly cost Google US$100 million to develop. YouTube users upload about 400 hours of video every minute of the day, and “Content ID” understandably fails to flag some small amount of copyright infringement. YouTube users who want to break the rules find ingenious ways to beat the system; if you’ve ever tried to keep a squirrel out of a bird feeder, you’ll know what I mean.

The EU directive wants website owners to be compelled to preemptively police the activities of users. When notified about infringing content, the site becomes responsible not only for removing that content but also for blocking any future attempts by that user to post illegal content.

New startup companies may lack the financial resources to create their own filtering technology, and this will have a stifling effect on the entire web. For example, an innovative new Internet startup company in México could find itself shut out of the EU market because it is too expensive to comply with the strict copyright laws in one country, such as Lithuania. This is the most troubling thing about the EU directive—the “least common denominator” effect.

Starting now, each of the 28 EU member nations will write new copyright-protection legislation. Because the Internet is international, companies need to be careful not to violate any country’s laws.

In the final analysis, this means that whichever nation enacts the most stringent copyright laws will effectively set strict limits for the rest of the world, including us in México.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or by email at FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com

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