European Copyright Reform: Article 13 puts alternative social networks at risk

10 February 2019

If you live in the European Union, you have probably heard about the planned European Copyright Reform, and you are probably aware of its controversial Article 13.

The so-called Proposal for a Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market intends to introduce new regulations around copyright. Article 13 would add new liability rules for online content-sharing service providers. While previously, providers could act on content that infringed copyright upon receiving a notice, the proposed regulations would render providers accountable for content as soon as it has been uploaded.

Effectively, this would put providers into a position where they have to implement strict upload filters to prevent users from uploading content that may infringe on someone else's copyright. This is dangerous, and it puts free speech, the diversity of opinions, and the internet as a whole at risk.

Article 13 previously contained rules to exclude platforms younger than three years, generating revenue of less than €10 million or with fewer than 5 million active users. Last week, however, a new draft was published, and the proposal now only excludes platforms matching all three of those conditions.

This is shocking. If Article 13 became a reality, everyone who operates a platform for users to publish content for more than three years would be 100% liable for everything happening on that platform, including content the operators are not even aware of. This makes operating an alternative social network effectively impossible.

For more details about the planned copyright reform, and information on how you can help, please check out This does not concern just diaspora* or your other favorite alternative social network. This concerns everyone. This is about health of the internet. Please #SaveYourInternet and fight against the #CensorshipMachine.

For reference, you will find below an open letter from diaspora* core team member Dennis Schubert, sent to those members of the European Parliament who currently support Article 13.

Dear Member of the European Parliament

The proposed Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market has been the topic of discussions for many months now. In spite of many debates on this matter, not much progress has been made to address concerns of many respected experts, including many NGOs and even the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, David Kaye[1]. According to my information, you are in the group of members of the European Parliament currently in favour of supporting this proposal, which is why I am reaching out to you to request you to reconsider the proposal, and especially consider the impact Article 13 will have on the Internet.

I am writing to you as a citizen of the European Union, but I am also reaching out to represent the many users and engineers behind alternative social networks. I am the project lead of diaspora*[2], an alternative, distributed social network based on free and open-source software. Together with similar projects such as Mastodon and Friendica, the world of alternative social media reaches over 2.5 million users on more than 4000 servers, including citizens who are part of your constituency.

Until now, the European Union has been seen as the epicentre of many efforts to build and maintain alternatives to large networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Many of these projects, their developers, and users are citizens of the European Union, and our projects enjoy great popularity among people as they are seen as privacy-friendly, local alternatives to the large systems built by American corporations. On many occasions in the past, European Union legislation has supported these projects and their principles, for instance with the recently implemented General Data Protection Regulation[4] to ensure high levels of data privacy for EU citizens.

Unfortunately, the planned copyright reform, and especially Article 13, will have an effect exactly opposite to supporting such projects and efforts.

The upload filters both explicitly described in and implied by the text on which you will be voting would force all online platforms to rely on technologies known to be error-prone, intrusive and legally questionable[5]. The proposal intends to hold providers of online platforms accountable for all content uploaded by users as soon as they have been published, contrary to the "notice and takedown" procedure currently in place, which allows providers to remove offending content upon receiving notice without the fear of legal repercussions.

For large platforms like Twitter and YouTube, this change would result in the implementation of stricter upload filters. Due to the technical natures of such systems and the strict liability regulations, those systems will be designed to block "too much", because blocking "too little" would put the provider at risk. Such over-cautious filters are a danger for users' freedom of speech, the diversity of opinions and creativity on the entire Internet, and would limit EU citizens' rights substantially.

Implementing Article 13 in its current form would be the end for smaller platforms and projects, as well as small and medium-sized businesses working on these or similar projects. Although in a previous revision of the proposal, platforms younger than three years, with revenue of less than €10 million, or with fewer than 5 million monthly active users would be excluded, a recent revision of the proposal now only excludes projects that meet all three of these conditions. For projects like diaspora*, which is significantly older than three years, this decision would result in all operators being responsible for every action their users do.

Non-profit projects like diaspora* are developed and maintained by people working voluntarily. Operators of servers running these software projects run those because they deem privacy important and want to provide an alternative to the large networks. They do not earn any money by doing this. The development, embedding and maintenance of infrastructure needed to filter copyright violations automatically requires a lot of resources, and implementing such solutions would thus simply be impossible.

If Article 13 became a reality, these projects and companies would not be able to comply with the new laws, so they could either cease to provide their services to European citizens and move their operations to a country outside the EU or stop their activities altogether. For Europe, especially as a community for strong privacy principles and independent, alternative solutions, this would be a huge step backwards and would make the established large networks, which quite regularly violate European principles, even more powerful.

With this, I am asking you to reject Article 13 of the Copyright Directive and to support all citizens who raise their voice for a free, open and diverse Internet.

Please do not use your vote to destroy the Internet.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,

Dennis Schubert