Saturday, 30 June 2018

Is the EU going to make it illegal to put church services on the Internet?

This is a call to action to my fellow Christians (Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others join too). Share this widely. Please contact your party’s representation in the European Parliament as they are about to hurt churches through copyright law and they appear oblivious to it. The new EU copyright law proposal that went through JURI Committee last week and is up for EU Parliament vote next week July 5 is the cause. There are two articles in it that churches should oppose, Article 13 (filtering) and Article 11 (Link-tax). The effects will be devastating, both for copyright law and for churches. Fortunately there are fixes possible.

It struck me that when I researched it, none of the representatives of Christian parties (ECR, Conservatives and Christenunie and EPP, CDA, CDU etc.) in the EU Parliament are opposing it. Worse, it’s actively proposed by the EPP-faction’s mr. Voss. They are heavily in bed with Big Media, forgetting most churches rely on small media and social media. The law is opposed by some liberal and left-wing parties amongst which the copyright oriented Pirate Party. So we must act and tell the Christian parties they are hurting the very people that send them to Brussels in the first place.
Now, I’m not the greatest copyright buff, I dabble. I’m also not the best Christian. I go to an non-denominational evangelical church occasionally (monthly??). I do care about both of them quite a bit as both have brought me great joy (and bitterness on occasion).

I base myself here on the works of and of Julia Reda of the Pirate Party who has some solutions. Some readers may grumble that those left-wingers and churches don’t always see eye to eye. However, those people take their copyright law as serious as many churchgoers take their Scripture, so let us work together and stop this bad proposal. If enough parliamentarians vote against this on Wednesday, it can still be blocked.

Article 13: the upload filter brings bad luck.

Anyway, why should churches (and other religious communities) be worried by the proposed changes to EU copyright law? Well, it’s particularly the proposed article 13 that would require intermediaries to filter any type of copyrighted content, up front, automatically, before it’s being published. This article makes the intermediary, Youtube, but also, your national Anglican-Lutheran-Reformed-Catholic-Orthodox-Evangelical church organisation is liable for all damages through copyright infringement. Let’s say you want to have a nice site with all the services of all the congregations you represent. Now, you get treated like the party responsible and liable.

That means that if you want to put your church service online, the intermediary has to check if anyone owns the copyright to the content of the service. Of course they do! A church service is 6 copyrighted songs, with a preacher citing from one or more copyrighted books (Yes, the Bible is copyrighted (except the KJV or Statenbijbel) and for good reasons, but still). And don’t tell me your church only sings century old hymns that are out of copyright, because some choir, singer or organist will have recorded these songs and their record label may have registered the copyrights to that performance. Youtube has a filter to check whether you violate any copyrights, but it’s not yet set to the toughest setting. If your church has a nice site with Wordpress or a local hosting firm and puts its services there, that site and hosting company is liable too and so they have to filter too. Unfortunately computers aren’t smart enough to know all intricacies of copyright. It doesn’t know if your church paid its copyright dues. or that the one who registered the content is using the same centuries old song, but played on an organ in your church by a famous organ player and then put it on a CD. So it all gets filtered and blocked.

A redress mechanism has been proposed that if you complain hard enough the content should get reinstated. Well, we all know how that works, it will be slow difficult and cumbersome and most won’t bother.

Article 11, just to make life of religious publishers harder

Article 11 is known as the link tax. It’s intention is that companies like Google should pay for using small snippets of an article on Google news. The way these link taxes have worked out in Germany and Spain is that anyone who cites news has to pay for it. That means any church or religious organisation’s newsletter has to pay. You can’t run a blog, a Facebook page, or anything where you point people to news that’s relevant to them, without paying the publisher. In Spain the effect was that these small aggregators ceased business.

In addition the effect in Spain and Germany was that Google News stopped indexing news sites. Traffic to these sites dropped. However it hurt smaller publishers way more than large ones. A Christian oriented newspaper, like Trouw, Reformatorisch Dagblad or Nederlands Dagblad in The Netherlands is by definition focused on a small group of people. Google News at least shows those that search that these papers exists and their opinion can carry weight. And when it’s visible, people click on the link and read. Without Google News people go to the Daily Mail, Bild and de Telegraaf.
Just think of how often religious organisations share snippets of news in their newsletters. What if you had to clear the rigths for that? 

So why didn’t I write this earlier?

Well, as I said, I’m not a copyright buff. I thought that things would solve themselves. If the inventors of the Internet, Vint Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee oppose it, If Wikipedia opposes it, if a whole bunch of scholars oppose it, we should be fine, but we aren’t. Big media and national broadcasters hate Google, Facebook, Netflix and others. This is their payback for 20 years of them having to change their business models. The sad thing is, the effect won’t be that they will do better, just that everyone is worse off, but at least it’s impossible to compete with them. With regard to churches, this means that some big churches and churches abroad (in the USA) can afford to put content online. For smaller ones it will become too hard. We all like an hour of Songs of Praise on the BBC, but that won’t get people into a local church. Protecting the national broadcaster so that his content doesn’t get uploaded is nice, but it shouldn’t prohibit a church or religious organisation from uploading theirs. 

Oh and if you think I might be wrong, have a look at these tweets and the reactions to them. The EU said funny pictures (memes) weren't affected. A quick reply from me caused a furor. (I never had this many reactions to a tweet before!