Mulled EU copyright shakeup will turn us into robo-censors – GitHub

Code-sharing websites may be forced to install automatic infringement filters

European flag with sad face

Code-repository GitHub has raised the alarm about a pending European copyright proposal THAT could force it to implement automated filtering systems – referred to by detractors as "censorship machines" – that would hinder developers working with free and open source software.

The proposal, part of Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive from 2016, has been working its way through the legislative process.

In a blog post on Wednesday GitHub explained that the shakeup was designed to address the perception that there's a "value gap" between the money streaming-media platforms make from uploaded content and what content creators actually get paid.

"However, the way it’s written captures many other types of content, including code," San Francisco-based GitHub said.

If passed, the rules would require code hosting platforms to take preemptive action to prevent copyrighted material from being shared without the appropriate license.

YouTube has an automated filtering system for music and video called Content ID, but it remains a controversial and blunt instrument that fails to account for fair use.

But unlike the music industry, the software industry lacks centralized collection organizations to ease the compliance process. So license problems would not be easily resolved.

Julia Reda, a member of the European Parliament and a representative of the Pirate Party in Germany, argues that the proposed requirements would force GitHub to negotiate a license from every single developer and would "kill the platforms economy in Europe."

Developers, developers, developers

The Free Software Foundation Europe and OpenForum Europe, which are running a related initiative, Save Code Share, to urge EU policy makers to rethink or drop Article 13 of the EU Copyright Reform, contend that it's not feasible to fully automate copyright compliance checking for developers, who deal with code, text, audio, and video.

And if that is indeed the case, code sharing platforms would need to hire a significant number of people to help with copyright compliance, as social media platforms like Facebook and YouTube have had to do.

Either way, the volume of material shared through the use of Git and other software tools would require development-oriented platform companies like GitHub to implement automated filtering mechanisms to decide what can and cannot be shared.

In an email to The Register, Abby Vollmer, policy manager at GitHub, said US developers would be subject to these same controls if they do business in Europe.

There are several potential problems to this approach, GitHub points out, beyond the privacy issues that follow from mandated surveillance, the implications for free speech, and the challenge of providing an avenue of redress for errant copyright removals.

For software developers, GitHub argues, the potential for false positives and false negatives is particularly acute because applications often involve many different contributors and layers of code, which may be under different licenses.

What's more, requiring code sharing platforms to remove code without a verified license could break applications that depend on the deleted library or module.

GitHub is asking developers to get in touch with EU legislators in advance of a March 20 EU Parliament meeting to convey the problems with the proposal.

Vollmer said GitHub would like to see the proposal narrowed to address the kinds of copyrighted works and platforms where a "value gap" may exist and to exclude software repositories.

"Whatever they think of the 'value gap' and streaming media platforms, lawmakers should understand that Article 13 unintentionally impacts software developers and this needs to be rectified," said Vollmer. ®




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