Italy Wikipedia goes dark in protest at EU copyright law

This law would have a huge cultural impact: it would limit, if not eradicate, mash-up formats such as memes, collages and much more

Italian Wikipedia is protesting against a new EU copyright law that might pass next Thursday. The local community behind the website decided to shut down all the Italian pages of the online encyclopedia. If a user looks up an entry, the page will load but then go dark in a few seconds, replaced by a press release.

Instead of upgrading copyright laws in Europe in order to promote the participation of all to information society, it threatens online freedom and creates obstacles to access the Web, by imposing new barriers, filters and restrictions. If the proposal will pass, it might become impossible to share an article on social media or to look for it on a search engine. Wikipedia itself would be at risk of closure.

What does this law entail? Fortunately and not by chance, the only Wikipedia page in Italian available today is the one about the Directive.

The introduction of a ‘link tax’

Search engines would be obliged to pay news media websites and publishers in order to be allowed to index news articles and show the related snippet. They might probably be able to pay them periodically, not for every single link.

Among the risks associated with this measure, addressed under Article 11 of the Directive, is that platforms as huge as Google or Facebook might paradoxically gain power, by deciding not to pay some websites and, by doing so, causing them relevant losses in terms of page views. Despite this might sound like a potentially positive move to contrast fake news while rewarding high quality websites, the criticality lies in understanding what criteria and what interests might influence such a selection.

Resolving ‘value gap’

Article 13, concerning user generated content containing copyrighted works, was designed to resolve the so-called value gap: we’re talking about remunerative discrimination that characterized streaming platforms. Apps and websites such as Spotify and YouTube, for example, pays relevantly different amount of money, copyright-wise: Spotify allegedly pays 20 times what YouTube does.

The measure would entail the developing of algorithms and filters, such as YouTube‘s Content ID, capable of checking if a post includes any piece of content protected by copyright and, if so, would literally prevent its upload. According to many critics, academics, NGOs and the inventor of the World Wide Web himself, Tim Berners-Lee, this level of control would massively limit the free circulation of information on the Internet. 

A cultural change

It’s not exclusively a matter of limitations towards publishers and news websites. This law would have a huge cultural impact on users as well: it would provoke a dramatic shift in terms of production and distribution of pieces of content such as memes, collages, videos, gifs, self-recorded music that include even short fragments of other songs (as it’s often the case with rap and hip-hop music) and any other formats that contains even the slightest form of cultural mash-up based on a protected content.


by Miriam Goi

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