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Humans Of Copyright: Bas Peters (Github)

The impact of Article 13 on the open source software community

We asked Bas Peters, Solutions Engineer at GitHub: “Do you think the copyright reform will be positive for open source software?”. He explained that many of the provisions could create legal uncertainty but that Article 13, in particular, would in its current form have a very negative impact in general, and more specifically on open software and software repositories. The full video version of his interview is embedded above. An extensive interview can also been found on Copybuzz.

#HumansOfCopyright: How to #FixCopyright for Open Source Software - Bas Peters [Long]

Why is Article 13 a Problem for Open Source and Code Sharing?

The proposed Article 13 of the EU Copyright Directive targets every online service that allows its users to upload and share content with each other, including code hosting platforms.

According to Bas Peters, Article 13 can ‘break the ecosystem of open source’ by disruptingthe collaborative model that is currently in place through the imposition of upload filters on sharing platforms.

As explained more in detail on the Github blog, upload filters have major impacts in terms of privacy and free speech, but they are also exytremely ineffective. As a result,

Upload filters are especially concerning for software developers given that:

  • 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’

The Save Code Share campaign gives a detailed overview of how code sharing platforms and open source in general are under threat:

Under this proposal code hosting platforms will be compelled to prevent any possible copyright infringement by developing fundamentally flawed filtering technologies. These filtering algorithms will ultimately decide what material software developers should be allowed to share.

As a result of this ongoing copyright review, every user of a code sharing platform, be they an individual, a business or a public administration, is to be treated as a potential copyright infringer: their content, including entire code repositories, will be monitored and blocked from being shared online at any time. This restricts the freedom of developers to use specific software components and tools that in return leads to less competition and less innovation. Ultimately this can result in software that is less reliable and a less resilient software infrastructure for everybody.’

The campaign illustrated the practical impact in two infographics:

It is important to understand in this context that creating specific carve-outs for certain platforms to be exempted from Article 13 is not a future-proof solution: when writing bad legislation and trying to avoid collateral damage by excluding from its scope certain existing services, policy makers usually think only about the services that exist today. Their ability to imagine what tomorrow will offer is obviously limited, which means the laws they write using this method run the risk of being obsolete the day of their adoption.

Policy makers need to hear about this danger directly from the knowledge community

Policy makers are sometimes unaware or overly dismissive of the collateral damages their proposals entail. Whilst many stakeholders and interests are represented in Brussels through trade associations or NGO’s, getting information directly from concerned citizens is still effective to catch the attention of policy makers.

Several tools are available to reach ot to policy-makers:

  • You can as a matter of principle sign the Open Letter from Save Code Share to add your name to the over 10.000 developpers that have voiced their concern.
  • You can email and/or tweet to relevant MEPs using our directory or you can spread the word in your network using our template email: go tour call to action page and select tweet or email (you can do both by using our form twice) or use our MEPs page and filter by choosing your country or by targetting the lead MEPs on the file, namely the Rapporteur and Shadow Rapporteurs.

For more background, check our Issues Briefing on Article 13 or read the great analysis by journalist Glyn Moody (EN here – FR here).