An additional misinterpretation propagated by campaigners against copyright reform is that platforms will have to take out licenses for all the content in the world from a near-infinite number of licensing partners. This, too, is inaccurate, since the transfer of liability to platforms only arises in cases in which rightsholders have specifically prohibited the unlicensed use of their works and had the works in question added to a database made available to platform operators through collecting societies. Visions of upload filters leading to dystopian censorship are, it follows, unfounded. This should be clear to anybody who has read the text of the directive and has even a basic working knowledge of informatics.
For a free Internet, we need copyright reform
The reform provides a basis for ensuring artists are fairly remunerated for their work and forces rightsholders to assist in the identification of works by registering their content in databases. Both effects are highly advantageous for users. Under the proposed regime, somebody who wants to use the Rage Against The Machines track „Killing In The Name Of“ on the soundtrack of a protest video will no longer have to worry about copyright and can simply upload the video to a platform. Works used will be identified, and the relevant collecting societies will distribute the licensing revenue they receive from the platform. If Rage Against The Machine has objections to the transformative use of their work, they can communicate them to the database. Once the directive has been transposed into national law, this procedure will become standard practice.
It will become possible to publish more content and easier to comply with the law. All of this will contribute to more freedom on the Internet - the kind of freedom that stems from having democratic rules rather than allowing tech giants with their community rules and automated decision-making processes to determine what content is permitted on their platforms and what they are prepared to pay for it.
Barlow overlooked what the author William Gibson had already recognized - that enterprises, when they make the rules, can become more powerful than states. The rejection of state-guaranteed democratic rules creates the power vacuum required for this to happen. This is the wider context that explains why copyright reform is but one battlefield in the struggle for political power on the Internet. YouTube should not be allowed to become the Internet for videos just as Google has practically already become the only filter for web searches. Amazon should not be allowed to evolve from a vendor in the market to the provider of the market and to dictate the earnings of parcel couriers. Rules in digital space must be created and weighed against each other by democratic means and not in an arbitrary fashion dependent solely on who wields the most market power. Artists and net activists should fight this battle together, because the Internet is not some abstract parallel dimension: its data flows determine our creditworthiness just as they supply us with holiday pictures and pervade every aspect of modern life. If we relinquish democratic control over this public space, we will become subject to the despotic rule of neoliberal tech giants, and not merely on the Internet.
Barlow’s manifesto ends with the words: „We will create a civilization of the Mind in Cyberspace. May it be more humane and fair than the world your governments have made before.“ Copyright reform will take our society one step closer to this aim. The quasi-governments that must now be opposed are called Google, facebook und Amazon. Those who take the side of these giants in this controversy are opposed to the free Internet in the true meaning of the word.
Translation from German by Sarah Swift.