Article 13 pits Big Tech and bots against European creatives

It's all about YouTube

Battling bots

The battle of Article 13 is remarkable for revealing two things: the extent of US technology lobbying networks in Europe, and the use of tools of automated consensus generation. For example, the Copyright4Creativity (PDF) organisation was set up by a registered lobbyist N-Square. C4C maintains the site. The Computer and Communications Industry Association, of which Google is a member, is also an N-Square client. Another opponent of Article 13 amendments is Mozilla, which receives some $300m annually from search engines. After a flirtation with Yahoo!, the Mozilla browser is now back with Google. Mozilla and C4C have been promoting automated tools to email, call and message MEPs – which is where it gets really interesting.

Around 60,000 emails were received by each MEP in the build up to the June vote, while Twitter engagement appeared to be high. MEPs typically receive 200 a week. Fearful of a groundswell of opinion, many MEPs voted to defer the vote until this week.

However, a rare tactical error by the campaigners revealed a wrinkle in the Matrix. It drew attention to a huge gulf between the electronic messaging – emails and tweets – directed at MEPs in June, and the number of people actually concerned about Article 13.

In August, the European Parliament's sole Pirate MEP, Julia Reda, called for demonstrations in 27 cities across Europe hoping to get a million on the streets. In 2012, thousands had marched to protest against copyright changes in the US SOPA legislation and the ACTA treaty. But in response to Reda's Article 13 call to arms, numbers were dismal. Only Berlin drew (perhaps) three figures. Stockholm had 17 file into a large square set aside for the event. Some demonstrations didn't happen. The sum total across the 27 was put at around 800.

"The poor turnout at yesterday's protests raises questions about whether online virality reliably tracks real-world support – and even whether online virality can be ordered up on-demand," wrote Robert Levine in Billboard.

Supporters of the changes were blunter:

"The campaign was hacked and public opinion was completely misrepresented," the European Grouping of Societies of Authors and Composers (GESAC) said in a statement.

"Public opinion was shown to be far more in favour of regulating tech, and protecting creators than what many were led to believe. In fact, two thirds of respondents of a poll (in 8 EU countries where the debate was very active) indicated they thought big tech had more power than the EU, showing there is a real necessity to oblige more transparency and to better regulate giant tech."

Google's fingerprints were found on the spammer, The Times reported. Google helps fund a Canadian operation, OpenMedia, whose co-founder also operates a mass-marketing platform called New/Mode. New/Mode offers to "flood targets with public messages" on social media platforms, and "blanket local media with stories from your supporters".

German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung's Volker Rieck claimed that most of the traffic on came from Poland; ads had been booked via the controversial Russian ad network Propellerads.

"What looked like grassroots movement from the outside was in fact a classic form of astroturfing – designed to create the appearance of a popular movement," Rieck said.

The tools did not filter out non-EU participants or repeat messages from the same sender. As musician activist David Lowery found, it was trivially easy to send multiple messages (from the United States) posing as an EU citizen:

But hold this thought: this may never have happened, if the competition authorities in Brussels had been more aggressive four years ago. Small music companies complained their YouTube contracts paid less and were much more onerous than those settled with big labels. The contracts contained one very telling clause. Music rights owners had to indemnify Google against UGC uploaders. In other words, Google was protecting its supply chain. That's not a luxury Apple has. But swift action and a behavioural remedy four years ago following a formal complaint against YouTube's abuse of monopoly never took place.

And here we are, with parliament attempting to ensure "takedowns remain staydowns". The fallout from the Article 13 vote is sure to continue and go to the heart of how Europe makes tech policy. If not amendments, then what? ®

Updated to add: What happens now?

After yesterday’s debate, the parliament today approved the package by 438 to 226 votes, with 39 abstentions. Amendments to Article 13 and Article 11, giving a new neighbouring right for news publishers, were approved. The commission welcomed the vote.

But that doesn’t mean it’s law: the bundle has simply cleared another step on the way. The changes now enter “trilogies” – a three way process between parliament, the Council of Europe, and the Commission. ®

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