The European Commission is currently considering a proposal that would require content-sharing platforms to monitor all uploaded content for copyright infringement. GitHub, together with FSFE and OpenForum Europe, fear the way this could impact software development and they are asking developers to take action now.
The threat to the viability of Free and Open Source Software comes from Article 13 of the EU Commision's Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.
As Abby Vollmera explains on the GitHub blog:
The proposal is aimed at music and videos on streaming platforms, based on a theory of a “value gap” between the profits those platforms make from uploaded works and what copyright holders of some uploaded works receive. However, the way it’s written captures many other types of content, including code.
Upload filters (aka censorship machines) are the most controversial elements of the proposal. Not only do they raise concerns regarding privacy and free speech, they are also ineffective. As Vollmera argues, drawing on a paper, "The Limits of Filtering", regarding the USA's Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA):
Content detection tools are flawed (generate false positives, don’t fit all kinds of content) and overly burdensome, especially for small and medium-sized businesses that might not be able to afford them or the resulting litigation.
She identifies three reasons why upload filters are especially concerning for software developers:
- Software developers create copyrightable works—their code—and those who choose an open source license want to allow that code to be shared
- False positives (and negatives) are especially likely for software code because code often has many contributors and layers, often with different licensing for different components
- Requiring code-hosting platforms to scan and automatically remove content could drastically impact software developers when their dependencies are removed due to false positives
In the blog post she puts out a call developers in the EU who understand that automated filtering of code would make software less reliable and more expensive to communicate this point of view to EU policymakers by writing to MEPs, Council Members or Commissioners asking them to exclude software repositories from Article 13.
At the very least concerned software developers should add their voice to the campaign to #savecodeshare led by Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and OpenForum Europe (OFE) which makes it easy for both individuals and organisations to show support by signing an open letter.
GitHub itself will be attending a breakfast meeting at the European Parliament on March 20th. This is part of next week's European Copyright Actions Days, taking place on 19-21 March in Brussels, which are intended:
to highlight the broad opposition of civil society, libraries, the users industry and many others concerning the restrictive aspects of the copyright reform proposal.
.This event has been organized by Communia, an organization which:
advocates for policies that expand the public domain and increase access to and reuse of culture and knowledge. We seek to limit the scope of exclusive copyright to sensible proportions that do not place unnecessary restrictions on access and use.
Communia's objection to copyright restrictions goes further than that of GitHub and of the Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) and OpenForum Europe (OFE) which are concerned with the impact of Article 13 on collaborative software development. The White Paper on European Copyright Reform produced jointly by FSFE and OFE opens with:
This document highlights an important aspect of the proposed Article 13 of the Copyright Directive that has so far not been sufficiently considered: namely, its likely impact on Free and Open Source Software1 and collaborative software development, as well as on developer communities, which together underpin a software and software based services (SSBS) market which is worth EUR 229 billion in the EU (2009) and employs a workforce of 3.1 million (2013).
The whole case is made in a 24-page document which is well worth reading, but if you only have a couple of minutes to spare check out the Open Letter to Secure Free and Open Source Software Ecosystem in the EU Copyright Review, an extract from which is given below, and add your name, optional photo, and email address.
There have already been over 7,000 signatures to this Open Letter, including mine and I Programmer's, so you'll be in good company.
JavaOne takes place in San Francisco from October 25-29. You can pre-register up until October 23 and there's still time to enter the JavaOne T-Shirt Design Challenge.
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