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European Union Passes Sweeping Copyright Rules

The European Parliament passed the European Union Copyright Directive on Tuesday, giving member states two years to implement the law before it goes into effect. The directive included the highly contentious Article 13, also called the “upload filter,” which will require media platforms to be liable for copyright infringements committed by their users. Tech companies […]

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  • The European Parliament passed the European Union Copyright Directive on Tuesday, giving member states two years to implement the law before it goes into effect.
  • The directive included the highly contentious Article 13, also called the “upload filter,” which will require media platforms to be liable for copyright infringements committed by their users.
  • Tech companies that lobbied against the bill have condemned its passage, while others in the music, publishing, and film industries have applauded the new law.

European Parliament Passes EUCD

The European Parliament gave the final approval to the sweeping copyright reform known as the European Union Copyright Directive (EUCD) on Tuesday, sparking backlash from large tech companies that have repeatedly lobbied against the bill.

The decision comes after the final version of the directive was approved by the different branches of the EU in February, and a final vote was set for European Parliament for the following month.

The decision on Tuesday came as members of the European Parliament voted 348 in favor of the directive and 274 against. A last-minute proposal to remove the controversial Article 13, also called the “upload filter” was rejected by only five votes.

The EUCD will now be passed on to EU member states, who will have two years to implement the law in their countries.

Member states do get to decide the details of the legislation individually, but the law will still probably have a huge impact on how the internet works in Europe.

The most contentious provisions from the drafts of the directive, Articles 11 and 13, still remain in the final version of the bill, though Article 13 has been renamed Article 17.

Article 11 & Article 13

Article 11, also called the “link tax,” mandates that links to web pages and articles can only be posted or shared on other platforms with a license.

While there are some exceptions, Article 11 will massively hurt news aggregators like Google News, because it will let publishers charge them when they display snippets of news stories.

Google has said that if publishers do decide to charge licenses for their material, they will be forced to scale down the content they show on Google News and potentially shut it down altogether.

While Article 11 has received a lot of criticism, the real heavy hitter is Article 13, now Article 17, which has also been the “upload filter.”

Article 13 requires platforms like YouTube to be responsible for copyright infringements committed by their users. The language in the law is vague, but many think that it will force these platforms to monitor and block copyrighted content from being uploaded, or else they will be liable.

People have argued that this provision could lead to automated “upload filters”–  hence the nickname. These filters would scan all user content before it’s uploaded to remove copyrighted material.

The law does not explicitly require automated filters, but many think that they are inevitable. There is so much content being uploaded to YouTube every second, which essentially makes it impossible for companies to manually sort through every video to make sure it does not violate copyright laws.

To make matters worse, experts have said that these filters are not ready for the market, and are likely to be error-prone or ineffective. They have also said that the technology is expensive.

While large tech companies like Facebook and YouTube could afford that technology, it would create a barrier for smaller companies who want to enter the market, because they would not be able to afford that kind of technology.

This, in turn, would further solidify big tech companies market dominance.

Which is especially ironic, because advocates of the directive have argued that it will balance the playing field between big U.S. tech companies and smaller European content creators by giving copyright holders more power in how their content is distributed.

Responses

The argument that smaller content creators will have more power under the EUCD is one that has been reiterated by its supporters over and over again. Despite the predominantly negative reaction to the passage of EUCD, groups from the music, publishing, and film industries have applauded the passage of the law.

“This is a vote against content theft.” Xavier Bouckaert the President of European Magazine Media Association said, “Publishers of all sizes and other creators will now have the right to set terms and conditions for others to re-use their content commercially, as is only fair and appropriate.”

Helen Smith, the head of the Independent Music Companies Association, called the move “A landmark day for Europe’s creators and citizens, and a significant step towards a fairer internet.”

“Platforms facilitate a unique relationship between artists and fans, and this will be given a boost as a result of this directive. It will have a ripple effect world wide,” Smith said.

On the other side, critics of the directive argue that it is vague and will end up censoring online content, hurt free speech and stifle innovation.

In response to the bill’s passage, YouTube thanked the creators who spoke out against Article 13 in a tweet.

A spokesperson for Google made a similar point, stating:

“The Copyright Directive is improved, but will still lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies […] The details matter, and we look forward to working with policy makers, publishers, creators, and rights holders as EU member states move to implement these new rules.”

International Spillover

With the passage of the law, many people in the U.S. are wondering if the directive will affect them.

While no one is entirely sure exactly how the law will affect people outside of the EU, there is a precedent for EU data protection laws influencing U.S. policy. Back in 2016, the EU passed the General Data Protection Regulation (GDRP), which set new rules for how companies manage and share personal data.

Theoretically, the GDPR would only apply to data belonging to EU citizens, but because the internet is a global commodity, nearly every online service was affected when the law was fully implemented last year.

The GDPR mandated that companies get consent before obtaining personal data, and it explicitly extended to companies outside the EU. It also imposed stricter penalties on companies for violating data privacy.

Those regulations in turn resulted in significant changes for U.S. users and forced U.S. companies to adapt. In response, companies like Google and Slack moved quickly to update their terms and contracts, and roll out new personal data tools.

The effect of the regulations have already taken a toll on U.S. tech companies.

In January, a French data protection authority announced that it fined Google $57 million for not properly disclosing how user data is collected for personalized advertisements across its services, including Google Maps and YouTube.

However, as of now, it is unclear if the EUCD will be as far-reaching as the GDRP.

See what others are saying: (The Verge) (Fortune) (Venture Beat)

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Thousands of Amazon Workers Demand Paid Time Off To Vote

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  • Around 4,000 Amazon tech workers signed a petition Tuesday that calls for eight hours of paid time off to be made available for employees to use up until Election Day for voting-related activities, including voting, registering, and volunteering.
  • Amazon, which is the second-largest employer in the U.S., does not currently have a companywide policy that offers its over 1.3 million workers paid time off to vote.
  • By contrast, companies like Walmart, Facebook, Apple, Uber, Starbucks, and dozens of others offer some sort of paid allotted time for voting.
  • Amazon says employees can request time off to vote, but the number of hours and pay it will provide depends on local laws.
  • Critics note that while some states require employees to be excused and paid for a few hours if voting conflicts with work schedules, several battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, do not.

Employees Back Petition

Thousands of Amazon tech workers backed a petition Tuesday urging the company to offer employees paid time off to vote on or before Election Day.

Amazon is the second-largest employer in the country, with over 1.3 million U.S. workers, including Whole Foods employees. However, it does not have a companywide policy in place that offers paid time off to participate in federal elections.

For comparison, Walmart, which is the nation’s largest employer, offers up to three paid hours for its employees to vote. Other companies like Facebook, Apple, Uber, Twitter, and Starbucks also provide allotted time for voting. Some companies, like Patagonia, are even closing their doors completely on Election Day, while stores like Best Buy are reducing hours.

Supporters of such policies point out that for many Americans, voting, especially during a pandemic, can mean hours-long lines and other unexpected delays.

Because of this, on Tuesday, more than 4,000 Amazon tech workers added their support to a petition that was created internally that morning by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.

That group formed in 2018 to put pressure on the company to commit to reducing fossil fuel emissions, but has expanded its focus to speak out against poor working conditions and other issues.

The petition calls for eight hours of paid time off to be made available for employees to use up until Election Day for voting-related activities, including registering to vote and volunteering.

Amazon Responds

However, on the other side of the issue, Amazon spokeswoman Jaci Anderson said that the company has given employees information on how to register to vote and request time off.

“In all 47 states with in-person voting, employees that lack adequate time before or after their scheduled workday to vote, can request and be provided excused time off,” she explained. “The number of hours and pay provided to employees varies by state in line with local laws.”

It appears that for now, Amazon doesn’t want to make paid time off for voting a company-wide policy and instead will only comply with local laws.

That’s a big deal because, although many states require employees to be excused and paid for a few hours if voting conflicts with work schedules, several battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, do not.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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Facebook Bans Holocaust Denial, Reversing Previous Policy

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  • Facebook announced Monday that it was expanding its hate speech policy to ban content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, a significant reversal from Mark Zuckerberg, who previously said he would leave the content up because it was not “intentional.”
  • In a blog post, the company cited the rise of antisemitism and lack of knowledge about the Holocaust among young people as the reasoning behind their decision.
  • While many applauded the move, they also argued that Facebook could have done this years ago and that the company was only taking action now because of pressure campaigns like Stop Hate for Profit.
  • Others also noted that the company made similar changes this week like banning QAnon and anti-vax ads, and argued Facebook was only reversing these policies to get good press ahead of the election.

Facebook Reverses Holocaust Denial Policy

Facebook will now ban all content that denies or distorts the Holocaust, the company announced Monday, reversing a years-long policy promoted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg has long argued that his platform should not be an “arbiter of truth” and intervene in questions of free speech. In 2018, he told Recode that while he found Holocaust denial “deeply offensive,” as a Jewish person himself, he did not think Facebook should regulate it.

“At the end of the day, I don’t believe that our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong,” he said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.” 

Now, Zuckerberg seems to have backtracked entirely, and in a Facebook post on Monday, he said the company would be expanding its hate speech policy to include Holocaust denial.

“We’ve long taken down posts that praise hate crimes or mass murder, including the Holocaust,” he wrote. “But with rising anti-Semitism, we’re expanding our policy to prohibit any content that denies or distorts the Holocaust as well.”

“I’ve struggled with the tension between standing for free expression and the harm caused by minimizing or denying the horror of the Holocaust,” Zuckerberg continued.

“My own thinking has evolved as I’ve seen data showing an increase in anti-Semitic violence, as have our wider policies on hate speech.” 

Rise in Antisemitic Violence and Holocaust Ignorance

The claim that antisemitism and anti-Semitic violence is rising is one that has been backed up by numerous recent reports. In May, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that 2019 saw the highest level of antisemitic incidents since the organization first started tracking in 1979.

This general trend has been supported by other organizations, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which reported that in 2018 that the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes had increased by nearly 40% from 2014.

However, that rise also goes beyond the U.S., which is something Facebook noted in the official blogpost announcing the policy change. In addition to “the well-documented rise in anti-Semitism globally,” the platform also said its decision was supported by “the alarming level of ignorance about the Holocaust, especially among young people.”

The company specifically noted a recent study that found that almost one in four U.S. adults aged 18-39 “said they believed the Holocaust was a myth, that it had been exaggerated or they weren’t sure.”

The study, which went viral last month following its publication, also found generally shocking levels of ignorance that Gen Z and Millenial Americans had about the Holocaust.

Among other things, that study reported that nationally, 63% of respondents did not know 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, and one in every eight said they had not even heard about it before.

Perhaps most relevant to Facebook’s new policy, the study also found that nearly half of people said had seen Holocaust denial or distortion in posts on social media or elsewhere online. 

Facebook Accused of Fostering Antisemitism

As is the case with other forms of hate speech and conspiracies, Facebook has long been accused of letting antisemitism flourish by allowing Holocaust denial on the platform.

In July, the ADL published an extensive report on the issue titled “Facebook Has a Holocaust Denial Problem.” Among other things, that report found that both public and private Holocaust denial groups that the platform shared anti-Semitic content that violated Facebook’s existing and long-held community guidelines.

The same month that report was published, the ADL also launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which involved an ad boycott of Facebook from over 1,000 major companies as well as a separate campaign where celebrities froze their Instagram and/or Facebook accounts for one day. 

While some said those efforts fell short, a number of people applauded Facebook’s Monday announcement and called the move a win for the campaign.

“Good news—another win for #StopHateForProfit: Facebook should have banned Holocaust denial long ago, but better late than never,” actor Sacha Baron Cohen, who has been a vocal critic of Facebook, tweeted.

Many others also hit on the point that this decision from Facebook was a good step, but it should have been done long ago. In a statement, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt commended the move, but noted that the ADL had been encouraging the platform to take this step for almost 10 years.

Greenblatt also implied that despite how Facebook may have presented the decision in their remarks, the company was not taking the action out of goodwill for the Jewish community, but rather because of external pressure from Stop Hate for Profit and other campaigns.

“As Facebook finally decides to take a stance against Holocaust denial and distortion, they claim it is because of their work with the Jewish community over the past year,” he said. “We question this claim because if they had wanted to support the Jewish community, this change could have been implemented at any point in the last nine years.”

Questions Over Timing

Other’s also had similar questions about the timing of the decision, noting that in the last two weeks alone, Facebook has made some major reversals, including saying it will temporarily stop all political ads after the election and announcing it will ban QAnon. On Tuesday morning, the company also announced it will start banning anti-vax ads.

As a result, many argued that, despite years of pressure, Facebook is only choosing to crack down on these issues now to get good press and appear as though they are addressing deep-rooted issues ahead of Election Day.

While plenty of people have still said these new changes are better late than never, others claim they were too little too late, pointing out that Facebook had four years to address these issues, but waited until the election was already well underway.

Facebook has been criticized both for its oversized role in allowing the spread of misinformation on the platform in the lead-up to the 2016 election and for not doing enough to address those issues in preparation for the 2020 election.

Also on Monday, a new study published by the German Marshall Fund Digital reported that engagement with misleading websites on Facebook has more than tripled since the 2016 election, despite all the so-called achievements Facebook has touted in this area, and all the millions of dollars it poured into these efforts.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (TIME) (The Guardian)

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Microsoft Takes a Shot at Apple, Says App Stores Should Be More Competitive

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  • Microsoft released a set of 10 app store principles designed to ensure fairness and healthy competition in Windows 10 and the Microsoft Store.
  • While these principles won’t require much change for the company, they are significant because they are aimed at sending a message to Apple, which has been repeatedly criticized for anti-competitive and unfair practices in its app store.
  • This makes Microsoft the largest company to go after the Apple app store, as it joins the likes of Spotify and Epic Games, which are already members of the Coalition For App Fairness. Microsoft’s 10 principles are very similar to principles that the coalition has laid out. 
  • Apple has defended itself, claiming that its app store is fair and competitive, and adding that it created an open marketplace for app developers. 

Microsoft’s New Principles

In an apparent shot at Apple, Microsoft released a set of principles for its app store on Thursday, calling for app stores everywhere to be more competitive and fair. 

“For software developers, app stores have become a critical gateway to some of the world’s most popular digital platforms,” Rima Alaily, Microsoft’s Vice President and Deputy General Counsel wrote in a blog post. “We and others have raised questions and, at times, expressed concerns about app stores on other digital platforms. However, we recognize that we should practice what we preach.”

The post went on to list 10 principles aimed to promote choice, fairness, and innovation on Windows 10 and in the Microsoft store. Those principles include Microsoft not blocking competing app stores on Windows, not blocking an app based on a developer’s business model or how it delivers content, not blocking apps based on the payment system a developer uses for in-app purchases, and giving developers access to information about the interoperability interfaces used on Windows.

These first four principles are designed to preserve freedom of choice and keep competition alive on Windows 10 in third party app stores. Alaily wrote that this offers different pricing options and distribution choices to developers as they distribute their apps across the internet. 

The remaining principles are meant to ensure that developers are all subject to the same standards and prevent Microsoft from favoring itself.  This includes holding developers equally accountable for safety and privacy, not forcing developers to sell anything on their app they do not want to, allowing developers to communicate with their users on business terms, and making sure Microsoft does not use private data to compete with developers. 

These rules will not apply to the Xbox Store. According to Alaily, game consoles are specialised and run on a different ecosystem and business model than PCs or phones. Therefore, these principles would not be practical for Xbox. 

Apple’s Anti-competitive Behavior

These principles will not require massive changes at Microsoft because Windows 10 is already an open platform, but constant references in the blog post to “other app stores” show that these rules are a clear nudge to Apple, which has been repeatedly criticized for anti-competitive behavior on its app store. 

Earlier this week, a House subcommittee released a report accusing Apple and other major tech companies, notably not Microsoft, of abusing monopoly powers and engaging in anti-competitive tactics. When it came to Apple, the report’s findings largely had to do with its app store. The report said that while Apple’s ecosystem has significant benefits for both app developers and customers, the company still functions on an extreme and controlling bias. 

The subcommittee wrote that this control over the app store creates barriers for competition and allows Apple to discriminate against rivals so they can instead promote their own apps.

“Apple also uses its power to exploit app developers through misappropriation of competitively sensitive information and to charge app developers supra-competitive prices within the App Store,” the report said. “Apple has maintained its dominance due to the presence of network effects, high barriers to entry, and high switching costs in the mobile operating system market.”

The report also noted that Apple, along with Google, charges developers a 30% commission on paid apps. While Apple claims this is an industry-standard, according to the report, this standard was actually established by Apple back in 2009.

Coalition For App Fairness

Microsoft is far from the first tech company to go after Apple’s app store practices, but it is the largest. The principles the company laid out borrow from policies laid out by The Coalition for App Fairness, whose members include Spotify, Epic Games, and Match Group. On its website, the coalition says that the tech giant is ruled by anti-competitive practices. 

“Apple uses its control of the iOS operating system to favor itself by controlling the products and features that are available to consumers,” the group says. “Apple requires equipment manufacturers to limit options, forces developers to sell through its App Store, and even steals ideas from competitors.”

The coalition also says that the 30% app tax forces developers to drive up their prices, making it impossible to compete with similar apps made by Apple that can get away with charging much less. Because of this, the group believes Apple is cutting into consumer purchasing power and freedom.

Tensions between tech groups in this coalition and Apple are nothing new. Over the summer, Epic Games slapped Apple with a lawsuit over its app store policies. Epic Games CEO thanked Microsoft for joining efforts to limit their powers. 

“It’s wonderful to see Microsoft formally codify its long-held principles in Windows as an open platform and a fair market for all developers and consumers,” he wrote.

He was not the only one to praise Microsoft. Spotify spokesman Adam Grossberg released a statement in support of the company’s move. 

“By embracing these principles, Microsoft will help create a level playing field for developers both large and small, provide consumers with greater choice, and hopefully encourage other platforms to do the same,” he said.

For its part, Apple has defended its practices within the app store. After the House released their report, the company put out a statement condemning its findings. 

“We have always said that scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate but we vehemently disagree with the conclusions reached in this staff report with respect to Apple,” the statement said. “Our company does not have a dominant market share in any category where we do business.”

“We’ve built the App Store to be a safe and trusted place for users to discover and download apps and a supportive way for developers to create and sell apps globally.”

See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Verge) (The New York Times)

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