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YouTube boss urges YouTubers to instigate one last push against article thirteen

By | Published on Tuesday 23 October 2018


The boss of Google’s safe harbour dwelling YouTube has been talking copyright directive. Because, as you all surely vividly remember, the European Parliament voted through the latest draft of the new European Copyright Directive last month – including the controversial safe harbour reform contained in what is called ‘article thirteen’.

At the time, you may also recall, YouTube told the world that “we’ve always said that more innovation and collaboration are the best way to achieve a sustainable future for the European news and creative sectors” and that “we’re committed to continued close partnership with these industries”. By which, of course, the company really meant “we’re going to tell grassroots creators that article thirteen will kill the internet”. It’s all so obvious with hindsight, isn’t it?

YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki penned a blog post to the YouTube creator community yesterday full of stats brags about the past and product promises for the future, but somewhere in the middle she found time for a good old fashioned article thirteen moan. That article, as noted, seeks to increase the copyright liabilities of user-upload platforms like YouTube, which have traditionally claimed protection under the copyright safe harbour whenever users upload copyright infringing content to their websites.

Safe harbour reform, of course, was the top priority for the wider music industry as soon as the European Commission announced plans for a new copyright directive. Record companies, music publishers, collecting societies and organisations representing artists, songwriters and managers lobbied hard to first get safe harbour reform in there at all, and then to have it beefed up a little as the European Parliament discussed the proposals.

All of this began because the music industry accused YouTube of exploiting the safe harbour in order to pressure music rights owners into licensing deals that paid much lower royalties than the deals they were concurrently signing with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. That difference in the monies generated by these deals was dubbed the ‘value gap’.

For a time it looked like article thirteen might cause the whole copyright directive to collapse, with the Parliament voting against the proposals in July on the back of machine-powered campaigning by the tech lobby. But then last month the Parliament passed the latest draft complete with its safe harbour reforms.

It’s not an entirely done deal just yet though. The directive is now in its final stage in Brussels, where the Parliament must agree the final wording of each new copyright rule with the European Commission and the EU Council. Once passed, the directive will then need to be implemented at a national level in each member state of the European Union.

It’s at that point that the internet will die, reckons doom peddler Wojcicki, in her big blog post full of woe to the YouTuber kids. “Article thirteen as written threatens to shut down the ability of millions of people – from creators like you to everyday users – to upload content to platforms like YouTube”, she says. “And it threatens to block users in the EU from viewing content that is already live on the channels of creators everywhere”.

And don’t be thinking that this just affects all the cat videos soundtracked by some top pop record that the cat owner ripped off. And then slowed down to avoid having their video blocked by YouTube’s Content ID system, which is famously utilised by cat-hating pop stars everywhere.

“This includes YouTube’s incredible video library of educational content”, reckons the Google exec. “Such as language classes, physics tutorials and other how-to’s”. No! Not the physics tutorials! Fuck me, I didn’t know it was going to affect the physics tutorials. If we’re not careful, I might have to start reading books again.

Of course, what Wojcicki really means is, “when all you fuckers rip off other people’s content, at the moment only you can get sued, but if article thirteen goes through, there’s a chance we’ll get sued too”. The people behind the language classes, physics tutorials and how-to guides that are all original content would never get sued, so neither would YouTube. The problem is all the content uploaded that does rip off other people’s work. Those uploaders usually aren’t worth suing, but YouTube probably is, once that’s an option.

The actual impact article thirteen will have on platforms like YouTube depends on how much you believe blanket licensing deals with the music and entertainment industries, beefed up Content ID type technologies and maybe a little more human moderation can reduce the risk of such platforms being successfully sued for infringement. Either by reducing the amount of rip off content being uploaded or – more likely – by convincing a judge down the line that an accused platform did everything it realistically could to stop infringing videos being shared.

Those campaigning for article thirteen argue that this can be achieved, ie that there are practical measures that will mean new liabilities don’t result in new litigation. It might require YouTube to invest a little more of its profits into honing its technology and business, but such investments would allow user-upload platforms to continue operating while being compliant with the proposed new rules. Maybe if Google had made those investments already, some in the music industry would argue, we wouldn’t have got to this point of demanding new laws.

However, Wojcicki – employing a little more drama – argues otherwise. “The proposal could force platforms, like YouTube, to allow only content from a small number of large companies”, she writes to all the non-large companies reading her blog post. “It would be too risky for platforms to host content from smaller original content creators, because the platforms would now be directly liable for that content”.

Insisting that YouTube has actually already spent plenty of money to help more traditional content companies manage their rights on her platform, she muses on: “We realise the importance of all rightsholders being fairly compensated, which is why we built Content ID and a platform to pay out all types of content owners. But the unintended consequences of article thirteen will put this ecosystem at risk”.

Concluding her article thirteen moan, Wojcicki first employs a little of the conciliatory language YouTube used on the day of the most recent European Parliament vote. “We are committed to working with the industry to find a better way”, she insists.

But then she calls on her audience to raise arms and attempt a last minute strike against the EU’s safe harbour reforms, partly by employing the misleading and simplistic hashtags that dominated the conversation back in July. Noting that the final draft of the directive was now being agreed, she writes “it’s important to speak up now”.

To that end she urges her readers to “take a moment to learn more about how it could affect your channel and take action immediately. Tell the world through social media (#SaveYourInternet) and your channel why the creator economy is important and how this legislation will impact you”.