For those outside the EU who have not been following this there is a good writeup on TheVerge here.

The EU parliament has passed the new copyright directive and small, politically minded, independent content producers all over the internet are collectively shitting bricks and screaming that this will be the end of the internet as we know it, that it will stifle free speech and all of the rest of it. Although there are a lot of valid points that are being made, there is one that I can't quite get on board with and that is the idea that this will be a total disaster for small content producers.

This is just a sketch of how things could go differently than they are being seen by most people knowledgeable on this topic right now. I know there are holes in this scenario. The major thing I'm getting that is no matter what legislation is passed, the generally assumed outcome is not a fait accompli.

The lesson of the history of consumer technology has taught us that it is common that those who seek to hold a firm grip on their platforms loose out, and those who seek to make them as open as possible often come out on top. Betamax lost to VHS in the video wars because Sony controlled who could publish what on their format (the urban legend being that Sony's refusal to allow porn resulted in Betamax's downfall). Sony seemed to learn it's lesson, and when it came to the Nintendo 64 vs Sony Playstation battle of the 90s Sony's more liberal attitude to licensing games, allowing games with more blood, gore and boobs lead it to capture much more of the market than the kids from Kyoto who wanted to preserve their family friendly image. The only example I can think of that doesn't follow this pattern is the battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray, and that was only because Sony had the massive advantage given to it by bundling Blu-Ray players into every Playstation 3.

So, let's now look to the changes that Article 11 and Article 13 will affect social media sites and news aggregators, the portals through which most people interact with the internet. First to article 11. Once this is implemented in legislation by the member states large online platforms will be required to check links that get posted on them by their users to ensure that they don't come from a news organization that requires a license fee be paid. This means that there will effectively be two internets as far as the platforms are concerned, the internet that they need to pay to display and the internet that is free for them to distribute. Even if they agree to pay the license fees, the platforms now have a massive incentive to promote content that has not been created by large news organisations, but by smaller independent publishers that do not charge licenses for linking.

Article 13, the content filtering requirements may also have a similar effect. If sites like YouTube are required to stop content in the copyright filter, a filter which will be populated by the major rights holders. So the conclusion is that the only content that does get through will be content that is not controlled by the major rights holders. Although there will of course still be official YouTube channels for major record labels and artists, and will mean that any independent creators that may inadvertently use something controlled by a major rightsholder will get into trouble, no totally new independent work will get blocked.

What I see springing up out of this is not a death of independent content creation but a massive incentive for the major platforms to support it. The major news agencies and rights holders want to go back to a time where people would go to them directly instead of through another service. CNN don't want you to find their articles through Google News or Facebook, they want you to set as your homepage to get your news so they can show you a new ad every time you start a new tab. Record companies want you to go to their homepages or the artists' homepage to find music, not YouTube. And if they can't get this they'll take the next best thing and take a cut of the revenue of the platforms. The thing they don't realise is that they can't go back to that, web browsing habits and media consumption habits have totally changed since the 90s when that was the norm. Now the power lies in the hands of the platforms and the platforms do have the power to break the old guard here.

If news and media companies exercise the rights that to extract license payments from the platforms and the platforms go down the route of blocking the links rather than paying up then the only thing that will be shared on these platforms is content made by creators that don't have teams of overpaid copyright lawyers looking for the treasure and glory that can be obtained through defeating one of the internet's goliaths. And even if they do go down the payment route, they now have a massive incentive to promote the work of the people they don't have to pay. Simply put, there will be a split in the web between content that the major platforms need to police can content that they don't and since they are not going to have to pay to use the latter they will be much more proactive in promoting that. The economics of the situation mean that totally user generated content is going to be the fuel for these platforms again.

The only issue remains is the fact that a lot of the user generated content out there at the moment features a lot of bits of content that is held by the major rights holders and it's feared that it will get caught in the content filters because of that. However, I think what will happen here is that a lot of the small content creators will start to use elements of each other's work rather than taking from wider mainstream culture. A lot has been made about the blocking of memes, but a look back over the history of the internet, and you will see that a lot of memes, like "Good Guy Greg", "Overly Attached Girlfriend" and "Pepe The Frog" would have all been fine as the base images for these memes would not have ended up in the copyright filters. As more more news-based memes like the one cited here, I think that there is more of a concern. Much will depend on the enabling legislation in the member states here, but since a lot of these memes depend on being timely, and since I can't exactly see the platforms being motivated to make the updating of the filters a quick process I still think a lot of political memes will be possible.

The potential upshot of this is that it reduces the presence of said culture, and hence the content of the major rights holders on the major platforms. The web would then begin to look a lot more like it did in the 90s and early 2000s, producing its own culture and organically, rather than being fed by big media companies from the outside. I must admit, the idea of this more raw and natural feeling web returning, one where the content really is user generated (because that is what the platforms are incentivized to promote) is one I find really exciting.

Here's hoping for a return to the days of the Wild Wild Web.