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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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FDA Recalls 11,000 Ice Cream Containers and Sportsmix Pet Food Products

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  • Over 11,000 cartons of Weis Markets ice cream were recalled after a customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor. 
  • The FDA also expanded a recall of Sportsmix pet food over concerns that the products may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins.
  • So far, more than 70 dogs have died and more than 80 pets have become sick after eating Sportsmix food. The agency recommends taking your pet to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

Metal Pieces in Weis Ice Cream Cause Massive Recall

The Food and Drug Administration announced two major product recalls this week following serious consumer complaints.

The first came Sunday when the agency revealed that over 11,000 cartons of Weis Market ice cream were recalled. “The products may be contaminated with extraneous material, specifically metal filling equipment parts,” the FDA’s statement explained.

At least one customer discovered an “intact piece of metal equipment” inside a 48-ounce container of the brand’s Cookies and Cream flavor.

Those containers were available in 197 Weis Market grocery stores, but they have already been pulled from shelves. The products have a sell-by date of October 21, 2020, and customers who purchased the product can return it for a full refund.

Along with removing 10,869 units of the Cookies and Cream containers, the brand also recalled 502 3-gallon bulk containers of Klein’s Vanilla Dairy Ice Cream.

Those bulk containers were not for retail sale, but were instead sold to one retail establishment in New York and have since been removed.

Sportsmix Recall Follows 70 Pet Deaths, 80 Illnesses

The second major recall came Tuesday when the FDA expanded a recall of Sportmix dog food.

According to the agency, the product may contain potentially fatal levels of aflatoxins – toxins produced by the Aspergillus flavus mold, which can grow on corn and other grains used as ingredients in pet food.

As of Tuesday, more than 70 pets have died and more than 80 have gotten sick after eating Sportsmix pet food. Not all the cases have been officially confirmed as aflatoxin poisoning at this time. This count also may not reflect the total number of pets affected.

For now, the FDA is asking pet owners and veterinary professionals to stop using the impacted Sportsmix products that have an expiration date on or before July 9, 2022, and have “05” in the date or lot code.

More detailed information about the recalled products can be found on the FDA’s announcement page.

Pets experiencing aflatoxin poisoning may have symptoms like sluggishness, loss of appetite, vomiting, jaundice, and/or diarrhea. In some cases, this toxicity can cause long-term liver issues without showing any symptoms. Because of this, pet owners are being advised to take their animals to a veterinarian if they have eaten the recalled products, even if they aren’t showing symptoms.

There is currently no evidence that pet owners who have handled the affected food are at risk of aflatoxin poisoning. Still, the FDA recommends that wash your hands after handling pet food.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (USA TODAY) (PEOPLE)

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Signal and Telegram Downloads Surge After WhatsApp Announces It Will Share Data With Facebook

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  • Downloads for Signal and Telegram have skyrocketed in the last week, with the encrypted messaging apps boasting 7.5 million and 9 million new followers, respectively.
  • The growth comes after WhatsApp said it will require almost all users to share personal data with its parent company Facebook.
  • It also comes after Parler’s shutdown and bans against President Trump from Twitter and Facebook, which prompted his supporters to turn specifically to Telegram.

Telegram and Signal See Big Boost

Downloads for the encrypted messaging apps Signal and Telegram have surged in the last week after WhatsApp announced that it will start forcing all users outside the E.U. and U.K. to share personal data with Facebook.

Last week, WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, told users that they must allow Facebook and its subsidiaries to collect their phone numbers, locations, and the phone numbers of their contacts, among other things.

Anyone who does not agree to the new terms by Feb. 8 will lose access to the messaging app. The move prompted many to call for people to delete WhatsApp and start using other services like Signal or Telegram.

Now, it appears those calls to use other encrypted messaging apps have been heard. According to data from app analytics firm Sensor Tower, Signal saw 7.5 million installs globally through the App Store and Google Play from Jan. 6 to Jan. 10 alone, marking a 4,200% increase from the previous week.

Meanwhile, Telegram saw even more downloads. During the same time, it gained 9 million users, up 91% from the previous week. It was also the most downloaded app in the U.S.

WhatsApp responded to the exodus by attempting to clarify its new policy in a statement Monday.

“We want to be clear that the policy update does not affect the privacy of your messages with friends or family in any way,” the company said. “Instead, this update includes changes related to messaging a business on WhatsApp, which is optional, and provides further transparency about how we collect and use data.”

Other Causes of App Growth

Notably, some of the spikes in the Telegram downloads, specifically, also come from many supporters of President Donald Trump flocking to alternative platforms after Parler was shut down and Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook.

Far-right chat room membership on the platform has increased significantly in recent days, NBC News reported. Conversations in pre-existing chatrooms where white supremacist content has already been shared for months has also increased since the pro-Trump insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week.

According to the outlet, many of the president’s supporters have moved their operations to the app in large part because it has very lax community guidelines. Companies like Facebook and Twitter have recently cracked down on groups and users sharing incendiary content, known conspiracy theories, and attempting to organize events that could lead to violence.

There have been several documented instances of Trump supporters now using Telegram channels to discuss planned events and urge acts of direct violence. Per NBC, in one channel named “fascist,” users have called on others to “shoot politicians” and “encourage armed struggle.” A post explaining how to radicalize Trump supporters to become neo-Nazis also made rounds on the “fascist” channel, among others. 

Membership one channel frequently used by members of the Proud Boys has grown by more than 10,000 in recent days, seeming to directly attract users from Parler.

“Now that they forced us off the main platforms it doesn’t mean we go away, it just means we are going to go to places they don’t see,” a user posted in the chatroom, according to NBC.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (Business Insider) (CNBC)

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Pornhub Removes All Unverified User Uploads, Taking Down Most of Its Videos

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  • Pornhub is now removing all videos that were not uploaded by verified users.
  • Before the massive purge, the site hosted around 13.5 million videos. As of Monday morning, there were only 2.9 million videos left. 
  • The move is part of a series of sweeping changes the company made days after The New York Times published a shocking op-ed detailing numerous instances of abuse on the site, including nonconsensual uploads of underage girls.
  • Following the article, numerous businesses cut ties with the company, including Mastercard and Visa, which both announced Thursday that they will not process any payments on the site.

Pornhub Purges Videos

Pornhub removed the vast majority of its existing videos Monday, just hours after the company announced that it would take down all existing videos uploaded by non-verified users.

According to reports, before the new move was announced Sunday night, Pornhub hosted about 13.5 million videos, according to the number displayed on the site’s search bar. As of writing, that search bar shows just over 2.9 million videos. 

The decision comes less than a week after the company announced it would only allow video uploads from content partners and members of its Model program.

At the time, Pornhub claimed it made the decision following an independent review launched in April to eliminate illegal content. However, many speculated that it was actually in large part due to an op-ed published in The New York Times just days before. That piece, among other things, found that the site had been hosting videos of young girls uploaded without their consent, including some content where minors were raped or assaulted.

The article prompted a wave of backlash against Pornhub and calls for other businesses to cut ties with the company. On Thursday, both Visa and Mastercard announced that they would stop processing all payments on the site.

“Our investigation over the past several days has confirmed violations of our standards prohibiting unlawful content on their site,” Mastercard said in a statement.

Less than an hour later, Visa tweeted that it would also be suspending payments while it completed its own investigation.

Pornhub Claims It’s Being Targeted

However, in its blogpost announcing the most recent decision, Pornhub claimed that it was being unfairly targeted.

Specifically, the company noted that Facebook’s own transparency report found 84 million instances of child sexual abuse content over the last three years. By contrast, a report by the third-party Internet Watch Foundation found 118 similar instances on Pornhub in the same time period.

Notably, the author of The Times report, Nicholas Krisof, specifically said the Internet Watch Foundation’s findings represented a massive undercount, and that he was able to find hundreds of these kinds of videos on Pornhub in just half an hour.

Still, the site used the disputed numbers to point a finger at others.

“It is clear that Pornhub is being targeted not because of our policies and how we compare to our peers, but because we are an adult content platform,” the statement continued.

“Every piece of Pornhub content is from verified uploaders, a requirement that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitter have yet to institute,” the company added. 

However, Pornhub’s implication that it is somehow more responsible because it only let verified users post content is a highly impractical comparison. First of all, Pornhub is a platform created exclusively for porn, content the social media companies the company name-checked explicitly prohibit.

Second of all, and the vast majority of people who use those platforms are not verified, and it would be impossible for a company like Facebook or YouTube to limit content to only verified users without entirely undermining their own purposes.

Verification Concerns

Even beyond that, there are also still questions about Pornhub’s verification process. According to their site, all someone needs to do to become verified is to simply have a Pornhub account with an avatar and then upload a selfie of themselves holding a piece of paper with their username and Pornhub.com written on it.

While the company did tell reporters the process would be made more thorough sometime next year, they did not provide any specific details, prompting questions about exhaustive the verification process will ultimately be.

That question is highly important because, at least per its current policies, the verification process makes it so users are eligible to monetize their videos as part of the ModelHub program.

If the new verification process is still weak or has loopholes, people could easily slip through the cracks and continue to profit. However, on the other side, there are also big concerns among sex-workers that if the process is too limited, they will be able to make money on the platform.

That concern has already been exacerbated by some of the other actions taken since The Times article was published. For example, after Mastercard and Visa made their announcements, numerous sex workers and activists condemned the decision, saying it would seriously hurt how porn performers collect income —  not just on Pornbub, but on other platforms as well. 

“By targeting Pornhub and successfully destroying the ability for independent creators to monetize their content, they have made it easier to remove payment options from smaller platforms too,” model Avalon Fey told Motherboard last week. “This has nothing to do with helping abused victims, and everything to do with hurting online adult entertainers to stop them from creating and sharing adult content.”  

Other performers also expressed similar concerns that the move could spillover to smaller platforms. 

“I am watching to see if my OnlyFans will be their next target and sincerely hoping not,” amateur performer Dylan Thomas also told the outlet.

“Sex workers are scared by this change, despite not having uploaded any illegal content,” Fey continued, “because we have seen these patterns before and have had sites and payment processors permanently and unexpectedly shut down.”

See what others are saying: (Motherboard) (The Verge) (Bloomberg)

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