Copyright Filters Delete Mueller Report Uploads as EU Passes Law

The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, approved a long-considered, sweeping new revision to Europe’s copyright laws last week, according to The Hollywood Reporter, a new “directive” that would hold online platforms—such as Facebook, YouTube or Twitter—responsible for copyright violations by users who upload material to the sites.

The vote among EU member nations was not unanimous, however. The United Kingdom and France were among the 19 countries who backed the new copyright legislation, according to the BBC. But Poland, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg and the Netherlands all voted against new law, on the grounds that the law’s requirements, while supposedly designed to protect copyright holders, will in fact lead to widespread internet censorship. 

The European Parliament passed the new copyright directive last September, and at that time critics warned that the law could “break the internet,” as reported, by requiring content platforms to deploy “upload filters,” that is, algorithms designed to autmotically detect copyright-violating content.

But those filters are notoriously unreliable, and can be used to block any type of content. As the tech culture site BoingBoing reported, last week the document storage site Scribd—which voluntarily uses the copyright upload filters—mass-deleted copies of the Mueller Report which users had uplaoded to the site.

The report of findings by Russian investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller is a government document, paid for by United States taxpayers, and as a result is in the public domain. There is no copyright on the report to filter.

A spokesperson for the Scribd site later said that the mass error was triggered by a book publisher who uploaded a copy of the Mueller Report—causing the algorithm to “believe” that the report was owned by the publisher, and automatically deleting 32 other uploaded copies, according to Quartz

Quartz writer David Yanofsky said that the mass takedown of the Mueller Report—which Scribd has since corrected, restoring the deleted files—is “a taste of what’s to come with the EU’s views on copyright enforcement.” 

“Public domain and other legal uses of work get blocked or taken down by an unaccountable system of corporate dragnets based on code so poorly written and algorithms so poorly trained that it mistakes the most talked-about and most widely shared public-domain documents for copyrighted works,” Yanofsky wrote.

The White House / Wikimedia Commons Public Domain


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