EU Copyright Reform: Mozilla Warns The EU Not To Break The Internet

The European Union (EU) is working on copyright reform legislation to make it easier for services to be delivered across the EU without any geographic restrictions. However, Mozilla believes that this is an opportunity to fix some other issues that currently exist in the outdated EU copyright legislation.

Mozilla’s main problem with the old copyright legislation in the EU is that it often stifles innovation and creativity on the Internet. The old copyright framework was created before the internet became a phenomenon, so Mozilla believes that makes the old copyright legislation inadequate for the 21st century. The company gave a few examples:

  • It’s illegal to share a picture of the Eiffel Tower light display at night. The display is copyrighted — and tourists don’t have the artists’ express permission.
  • In some parts of the EU, making a meme is technically unlawful. There is no EU-wide fair use exception.
  • In some parts of the EU, educators can’t screen films or share teaching materials in the classroom due to restrictive copyright law.

The European Commission plans to reform the copyright framework this fall. Mozilla is asking EU citizens to sign a petition so that the Commission takes into account these three principles about what the new framework should include: modern 21st century legislation, built-in openness and flexibility to foster innovation, and a promise not to break the internet.

21st Century Copyright Law

The current EU copyright directive was created in 2001, six years before the iPhone even existed, and the same year Microsoft launched Windows XP. It was also four years before YouTube.com launched, a site full of content uploaded by people who weren’t the original content creators. However, most of these scenarios were covered by the “fair use” doctrine in the U.S., without which a site such as YouTube may have never been allowed to exist.

This is precisely the problem with current copyright laws in the European Union. In many of its member countries, there is no concept of “fair use,” so much of the online content there could technically be considered illegal.

Built-in Openness And Flexibility

Too many restrictions for what one is allowed to do with a piece of content can stifle the creation of new ideas, which otherwise would have benefited everyone.

That’s why Mozilla believes that the new copyright reform legislation should include clauses such as an open norm, fair dealing, or fair use. These would allow people to freely share content and culture with each other, without a fear of reprisal from large corporations. Much of this is what has made the internet so great worldwide, despite the fact that such acts have been illegal for the most part in the EU.

Don't Break The Internet

What’s at stake in the new copyright reform is not just whether outdated ideas can be eliminated from the existing copyright law, but also whether new bad ideas would be introduced or not.

For instance, some in the EU have pushed for ideas such as paying licensing fees for linking to a piece of content (even if that act is what drives more web traffic to it), or for uploading content.

Others are asking for new laws that would mandate monitoring and filtering of certain types of content. Mozilla believes that such laws would create gatekeepers, which is what many have tried to stop with the passing of the recent net neutrality legislation in the EU. They would create barriers to entry, undermining both economic growth and the free expression on the Internet.

“We need to defend the principle of innovation without permission in copyright law,” argued Mozilla.

“Abandoning it by holding platforms liable for everything that happens online would have an immense chilling effect on speech, and would take away one of the best parts of the internet — the ability to innovate and breathe new meaning into old content,” noted the company.

If you’re from an European Union country (even the UK, still) you can sign Mozilla’s petition to help it promote these values before the European Commission decides what should be part of the new copyright reform legislation.