Copyright Absurdism

There is a pattern in the copyright debate, which I think is different from most other fields of policy. Whatever the proposal, quickly the most extreme and absurd interpretation emerges and takes center stage. Example: Sports events create lots of revenue for bookmakers and online betting providers, money that would not come were it not for the game. In a fair world, they would share some profits with those who make their business possible. But in this world, instead online betting services provide live streams of games, competing for the viewers with those television broadcasters and video services who pay license fees for the same games. Same for other types of pirate streaming services. It would be normal to demand that the same rules apply, wouldn’t you think? This is what the European Parliament thinks, because the copyright reform vote this week gives sports events organisers this right. So far all is well. But what has been the focus of the debate? That fans should not be allowed to take selfies at games! Yes, that is what the critics have brought forward. No matter that such rules exist already in France and other member states and lots of sports fans take selfies at Ligue 1-games. Common sense and real-life evidence takes a back seat when it comes to copyright debates. It is the most unlikely and outlandish scenario that must be debated.

What if this was the case in some other field of policy? Monetary policy: “No, we can’t lower the interest rate, what if it goes down to -1000%? All the money in the world would disappear!” Defense: “Increase defense? What, put a gun in every house? There would be bloodbath in an instant!” Climate: “Reduce emissions? So we should live in caves and eat rocks for lunch?” (okay, I’ve actually heard that one) Labour market: “Fair wages? Why work at all?” Health care: “More doctors? Why not train everybody to be a doctor?” Granted, sometimes someone says things such as these, but that is the exception. It doesn’t set the standard for the debate. In copyright it does.

You think it’s only loudmouth tweeters? No, the absurdity goes all the way into the quality press. The Times used this headline to report on the copyright vote:

EU online copyright ruling ‘favours terrorists’

Sure, it’s a headline, it’s supposed to be eye-catching. But the article continues:

New European Union copyright legislation will create a “perverse incentive” forcing big internet companies, such as Google or Facebook, to take down copyrighted content before removing terrorist videos or child pornography.

Really? I thought the problem was that they screen out perfectly normal material such as mothers breast-feeding their babies or family photos from the beach. It’s not like the tech companies don’t have the resources to take out the content they don’t want. The problem is the lack of transparency and influence of how its applied. Anyone who thinks Big Tech will work harder to take away pirate movies, music or sports games than terrorist videos or child pornography (or breast-feeding mothers), please stand up.

Good news, perhaps with the press publisher’s right, The Times could afford to do their homework and call bluffs like these. Fingers crossed.

2

Leave Comment

  1. It would have been so easy to write Article 12a so that it only targeted large streamers and excluded selfies. What was the reason to leave it so ambiguous?

    You compare this with monetary policy. Imagine if the Central Bank said “we are lowering interest rates by some amount we won’t specify”. Then later: “why are all these people assuming it could be large?!”…

    • Per Strömbäck

      Good point. Except is this not just what the Central Bank does? “We will increase interests later” (then delay and delay). Second thoughts, it was maybe not the best example as Central Banks are quite different from legislators. Courts usually don’t try cases on central bank decisions, but (almost) all laws are tried in court at some point. But yeah, I take your point.

Comment on this article