Article 13 – An Existential Threat


As Europe’s latest copyright proposal heads to a critical vote on June 20-21, more than 70 Internet and computing luminaries have spoken out against a dangerous provision, Article 13, that would require Internet platforms to automatically filter uploaded content.



The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a letter from more than 70 leaders in the emerging meshed society (including me) which criticises Article 13 of the European Union’s proposed new copyright regulations. This Article starts from the assumption that the only role of an individual is to consume copyrighted works and hence deduces that any act of publication on the part of an indivdual must be infringing the copyrights of a corporation unless proven otherwise. The text doesn’t state things that clearly, but the effect is unmistakeable. It’s as if a politician was proposing to ban syringes because addicts use them, without considering that hospitals do too.


The regulations go on to use the power of “safe harbour” – an increasingly popular legislative device that grants delay or immunity from prosecution as a party to an offence to a company if it can demonstrate it has taken specified actions. For example. it’s “safe harbour” that induces YouTube to take down your videos when a copyright holder asserts the bird song in the background is in fact a song they published. Getting that video re-posted involves you, an individual, taking on terrifying potential liability in the event the copyright holder litigates so YouTube can be absolved of it.

In the case of the EU proposal things aren’t even that good – there’s no way for a platform to discharge liability and no appeals process specified, so any match in the filter will always mean a take-down you can’t fix. As the EFF say, “What began as a bad idea offered up to copyright lobbyists as a solution to an imaginary “value gap” has now become an outright crisis for future of the Internet as we know it.”

This applies equally to open source communities. If Article 13 endures, every project may need to apply trigger-happy filtering and default censorship to bug reports, code commits, forum postings and pretty much every other element of normal community discourse. The service would of necessity have to be expensively acquired from proprietary vendors using opaquely-maintained databases and invisible algortithms. The financial risk of not doing so would be immense and the burden of doing so would be prohibitive.

While changes have been made to the proposed rules to allegedly make space for open source projects, they are ineffective since they are not sufficiently conclusive to real project leaders and hosts; for example, they assume open source projects are “non-commercial”. It’s potentially an existential threat to open source projects across Europe.

As the letter states,

We support the consideration of measures that would improve the ability for creators to receive fair remuneration for the use of their works online. But we cannot support Article 13, which would mandate Internet platforms to embed an automated infrastructure for monitoring and censorship deep into their networks. For the sake of the Internet’s future, we urge you to vote for the deletion of this proposal.

Both personally and on behalf of the Open Source Initiative, I urge the European Parliament to do this, and to strike Article 13 from this regulation to save Europe’s open source communities from having an inherent disadvantage on the world stage. The misguided rules may have passed in committee, but they must not be allowed to pass through the European Parliament.

If you’d like to tell the MEP’s from your country your views on this, please visit – you have until July 3rd.

Image credit:
SafeHarbor.png” by Open Source Initiative, 2019, CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication, is a derivative of “20170927-boat-marathon-fl-1000.jpg” a U.S. Coast Guard Photo available under Public Domain, via the National Ocean Service.

This article was originally published in Meshed Insights, and was made possible by Patreon patrons.