Thursday, September 6, 2018

Freedom and prior censorship

Wikipedia Logo
On July 5, 2018 the European Parliament rejected, by 318 votes against 278, the proposal for the Copyright Directive in the European Single Market. In the days leading up to this vote, there were many public and private activities in favor and against the proposal, which after this defeat will have to be debated again in committee, probably with amendments. The most controversial points of the proposal, those that gathered most rejection, were incorporated in two articles of the regulation:
  • Article 11: Establishes what has been popularly called the Google tax. It makes it compulsory, for those responsible for web pages, to request permission, and if the copyright owners wish, to pay a fee, for including a link to a news or copyright owner that has appeared in any of the media. The most favored by this article are not individual authors, but mass media (especially the press on the Internet), the main defenders of this measure.
The MEPs who defended this article argue that it does not affect individuals or the Wikipedia, although the latter felt so threatened, that it declared a strike for the first time in its history, so that access to the Spanish, Italian and French versions of the Wikipedia was closed during the day before the vote. The problem is, this article may be expressed so ambiguously that, although just now may not apply to individuals or to Wikipedia, there are no guarantees that in the future this cannot be done.
  • Article 13: Requires that Internet platforms (such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter or eBay) introduce prior censorship on the contents uploaded by the users of these platforms, to ensure that they do not infringe copyrights. The censorship would take effect through automatic filters (computer algorithms) that would detect such transgressions and prevent the contents from being made public.
I think that MEPs and other politicians, who are usually quite ignorant about computers, have been fooled by the media, which are equally ignorant. There is too much talk about artificial intelligence, a flashy name, usually used nowadays as a synonym of what was called computer science, and spectacular advances are being announced that will soon make our programs more intelligent than we are (a debatable prediction, as I indicated in another post). It seems that politicians do believe that these filters, the use of which they wanted to make mandatory, so as to implement prior censorship, can be programmed with the current information technology. But the truth is, this is not so.
We have known for some time that the weak point of computer science is common sense, which makes it possible for human beings to orient themselves in practical life (as Bergson said). To implement prior censorship, the algorithms in the filters would have to apply common sense, and they can’t do it.
In the legislation of almost all countries there are exceptions to copyright, such as the following:
  • The right to quote, which the Wikipedia defines as follows: It shall be permissible to make quotations... (include fragments of other works of any kind subject to the following requirements: a) the cited paragraphs are within a reasonable limit (varying from country to country), b) clearly marked as quotations and fully referenced, c) the resulting new work is not just a collection of quotations, but constitutes a fully original work in itself. In some countries the intended use of the work (educational, scientific, etc.) may also be a factor determining the scope of this right.
  • The right to parody, defined thus by the Wikipedia: A work created to imitate, make fun of, or comment on an original work –its subject, author style, or some other target– by means of satiric or ironic imitation.
We have now a posteriori censorship, which means that the owner of copyright can request access to some content be forbidden because it violates his rights, but the decision may have to be left to a judge, who will decide, using his common sense, if it is really a transgression of copyright, or if it falls under the umbrella of the right to quote or parody. But a computer program cannot do this. The problem is that the detection of whether a text is a legal quote or a parody of another text is a common sense problem, which computer algorithms are not able to solve.
Politicians now devote their efforts to cut our freedom, to forbid this and that, although they often don’t even know how to implement their decisions. To give the impression that they are friends of freedom, they try to compensate by establishing supposed new rights, such as the right to kill our children and the elderly, or the right to sleep with whomever you please.
We live in a Brave New World where a minority of little self-appointed dictators manipulate the flock of sheep that used to be called people, keeping them quiet by cramming them with sex and drugs, sometimes physical, sometimes mental.

The same post in Spanish
Thematic Thread on Politics and Economy: Previous Next
Manuel Alfonseca

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