The Internet As We Know It

A few days after the European parliament had passed a first step towards updating the laws on online copyright, I made the mistake to enter one discussion about it, online.

The “usual suspects” made claims that this would be “the end of the internet as we know it”, censorship would be unavoidable, and so on, and so on. Hashtag “SaveYourInternet” or the argument “it would be the death of memes!” – really? It’s the memes that people are worried about here? Telling!

Few of these claims were (and are) more than speculation at this time and, after having read about the scary amounts of propaganda that Google and other big tech companies are creating*, to stage “grassroots” protests (that are actually more like astroturf), I “wondered out loud” who’s actually influencing the opinions of these opponents – or perhaps even paying them.

The responses were astonishing. People willingly take the side of Google – a corporation that makes billions of dollars, partially from monetizing copyright infringement – and defend them. They are okay with the fact that Google is the player behind massive lobbying and propaganda campaigns – but point fingers at organizations like Netopia because they are backed by publishers, ie. the side that actually produces content on the internet. The content those people who are against copyright enforcement and fair licensing want to continue to consume at no cost, of course.

One person really wanted to tell me that Google spending 60 million dollars on their YouTube Content ID system is a problem – it’s so expensive! Did they ever look at one of Google’s earnings reports? Per their 2017 fiscal year earnings record, they have $100 billion in cash. But they can’t afford to properly license the content that their users upload without a license? I call BS.

And if they could afford it, then it’s still “technically impossible” – while at they same time, they have a working content ID on YouTube that detects copyrighted audio, Google Search has a working reverse image search, and who knows what else they’re able to detect, if they’d just have to. It’s a technical problem and yet, all those brilliant minds won’t be able to solve it. Yeah, right.

And somehow, Google and Silicon Valley managed to make people think that their interests are aligned with each other. I guess in a way they are, because both would apparently very much like to continue to offer, use and consume copyrighted content at no cost, without the proper rights or a license, and without any responsibility for it either. For Google and Silicon Valley, with the added benefit that they monetize copyright infringements, of course.

Needless to say – as a creative and content producer who sees his own copyright infringed online every day, this bothers me.

It is highly irritating that “normal people” defend the tech giants of Silicon Valley over content creators and producers. Why are people doing that? Is it Google who increasingly struggles to make money in this digital “everything is free” economy, or me? Do I not deserve to get paid when my work is being used, online?

It is absolutely mind-boggling how individuals defend gigantic Silicon Valley corporations against fair & legitimate demands from artists and content creators – just because “someone” (quietly funded by those very corporations) said “the Internet as we know it is under threat.”

Copyright isn’t a bad thing. Copyright gives artists a choice – and as it is, on “the Internet as we know it”, it is completely beyond control and choice for artists like me. The DMCA is a ridiculous, endless game of whack-a-mole, streaming sites pay fractions of pennies to musicians, music is sold at 99 cents per track (why buy an entire album?), and so on, and so on, and so on. If you’re a small, independent artist, doesn’t matter whether you create movies, music or images, then I beg your pardon, you’re fucked by “the Internet as we know it.”

Now if anyone told the very same people who defend Google etc that they’d have to defend car makers from the “threat” of laws & regulations regarding say, safety or pollution, they’d show them the finger. But it’s cool to see musicians, photographers, film makers etc. ripped off, and even defend that practice, in the name of “digital freedom” – a freedom that translates to Silicon Valley’s license to make money off it.

And what freedom is it that’s being defended here when it puts limits on what can be uploaded and shared without a proper license? Following that logic, the police chasing a car thief in a stolen vehicle is a threat to the thief’s freedom.

Why is this “Internet as we know it” that KILLS art, movies & music by shitting on copyright worth defending? If gigantic Silicon Valley corporations are profiting off of “user generated content” that is infringing an artist’s copyright, without compensating the original creator, then this “Internet as we know it” absolutely SHOULD end.

The EU’s article 13 is a step in the right direction. Policies get updated to adapt to changes in society. Businesses and individuals alike will have to adapt to new policies. It is unfortunate that once more, it is the EU that spearheads these policy changes, while the US remains in the steadfast grip of Silicon Valley’s intensive lobbying.

*) blogs like The Trichordist and The Illusion of More provide some good reading, if you’re interested.