Wikipedia, Trolls and Copyright

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia has lashed out at the EU Copyright directive calling it an attack on the way that people use the internet.

Speaking in an exclusive interview during, a now annual think tank on the role of technology in society, Wales said that the reason for recent Wikipedia ‘blackouts’ in Italy and Poland was to signal to European lawmakers that they are attacking the soul of the internet.

“Well it’s not so much anti-copyright but we do oppose legislation that fundamentally affects the way ordinary people are using the Internet. And we felt like that this these proposals will do that.”

In what is being portrayed as a battle between bureaucrats and the guardians of the internet age. Wales and technology giants like Google and Facebook are increasingly depicting the EU as out of step with the information age and as a threat to the freedoms of the new high-tech world.

On one side are the forces of the old conservative order, the politicians, bureaucrats and the police in various flavours and on the other an unlikely alliance of the new hugely rich technology companies and the internet libertarians who claim the internet as their own personal fiefdom.

The big tech companies say that regulations like the French-inspired ‘droit à l’oubli’, the right to be forgotten and the EU Copyright Directive simply prove that politicians do not understand the brave new world of the web.

It is a view of ‘out of touch politicians’ that Asa Raskin, a former head of technology for Mozilla and one of the founders of the Centre for Humane Technology which campaigns against internet abuses says is common in the Californian heartland of the tech companies.

“There is a meme in Silicon Valley which is that governments are too slow and they are too uninformed and that the people are too old to make good policy,” Raskin, commented.

A charge from Silicon Valley that the internet should be free of offline regulation that Axel Voss, a German MEP and a key figure in drafting the EU Directive on Copyright, rejects.

Voss thinks that the internet companies are exploiting ideas of internet freedom and libertarianism to create their own world and then claiming that any opposition to it is counter disruptive and that they have should have total freedom and to do what they like.

“With this argument of course, you can avoid everything that is a legal requirement and it’s a criminal argument. Are you saying: ‘if I have to sort out child pornography, propaganda, hate speech and whatever you can think of then you are killing the internet?’  No with this argument you’re turning the whole internet into a law free space.

“This is something our society has to decide. Would we like to live in this world or not? Fulfilling legal requirements is not intended to be a counter disruptive action for the platforms or their business models. It’s simpler than that, their business model has to fulfil the legal requirements and so they should do something.”

It’s simpler than that, their business model has to fulfil the legal requirements and so they should do something

According to Voss, copyright is a fundamental right, a property right and a fundamental property right that the internet companies themselves assert over their software.  Voss claims the big US tech concerns are infringing the fundamental rights of other intellectual property owners and hiding behind ideas that say that knowledge on the internet should be free and the old rights of copyright holders are unenforceable while the internet companies can enforce their property rights and their terms and conditions.

It was an argument that once held sway but now the EU now has the technology companies firmly in its sights, right across the board from the payment of taxes where they are earned, to the regulation of their online activities. Voss’ colleague John Haworth, an English MEP, is even more robust about the tech giants’ actions and what the response should be.

“There’s no free. Microsoft and others constructed the ludicrous notion of free services, it’s a massive con. There are no free services nothing is free.”

“It is entirely right that people are properly rewarded for their work, they have been comprehensively ripped off. Copyright applies to the people who create images, who create films, or create television programs, and so they need to have their interests protected too. For me the copyright directive was about fair work, fair pay, and rights over intellectual property that the people who created the so-called free internet have been happy to exploit to make money from,” said Haworth, who just as vigorously attacked the internet libertarian idea that all information should be free.

“There’s no free. This is a massive illusion; people pay for things. People provide value in exchange for services to the internet companies. Microsoft and others constructed the ludicrous notion of free services, it’s a massive con. There are no free services nothing is free.”

The copyright champion Voss admits that he is puzzled by Wikipedia’s position on the copyright legislation because the legislators took particular concern to ensure that the online encyclopaedia was not harmed by the new directive.

“The European Court of Justice judged that article 14 of the E-Commerce Bill can only be valid for passive platforms and not for active platforms. This means active platforms have a liability and we took that on board in this copyright reform. Jimmy Wales can’t complain because we took Wikipedia out deliberately in Article 2.6 in the consolidated version,” said Voss adding that Wales’ and Wikipedia’s opposition appeared to be ideological: “I think they don’t like to have a liability of platforms.”

For Voss though, more worrying than the spat with Wales, is a misconception that the directive means that the EU will censor the internet and will install upload filters to enforce the directive which he says is a totally untrue claim spread by social media.

They think we are installing upload filters because of copyright and this is absolutely not true

“This was one big, big, big fake news campaign but in Germany the younger generation believes in it. They think we are installing upload filters because of copyright and this is absolutely not true and because no-one has explained what we are really doing the fake news is out there.

“So, you can see how dangerous this already is. This power of communication to millions of young people is influencing the democratic structure even here in Germany because a lot of EU colleagues were telling me you are totally right but I can’t vote for it now because an election is coming and I will be confronted with this situation.”

One perhaps for Jimmy Wales, he was at the Copenhagen Tech Festival to launch his revamped WikiTribune idea, an online news service to combat fake news and change the now tortured soul of the web.

“It’s an attempt to try to rethink how social media works, to think about journalism. To see how we can engage with quality people in the community and amplify them rather than just accepting what the comment fields on news sites say because they are just full of trolls and the worst people in humanity,” Wales told me.