Saturday, February 16, 2019

European Commission removes offensive blog post that called critics of copyright bill a "mob"

[Update] Please sign the related petition demanding an apology. [/Update]

[Update 2] The European Commission has indeed apologized. [/Update 2]

Earlier today I shared my views on what needs to improve with respect to strategy and execution in order to prevent the EU's "copywrong" bill from being adopted. Later I became aware, through one of German Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda's tweets, of a European Commission blog post on with a headline insulting all critics (even including law professors, by the way) of the proposed EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market:

"The Copyright Directive: how the mob was told to save the dragon and slay the knight" (emphasis added)

Here's a screenshot (from an archive; this post continues below the image):

Many people were outraged, and I called this a "new low" for political discourse in the EU. It's simply inappropriate and unacceptable for a government agency to insult citizens concerned about a legislative proposal (many of whom foot the bill of the Brussels gravy train with their taxes). If there had been a violent demonstration breaking the windows of the Berlaymont building, the term "mob" might have been justified. But no such thing happened in connection with the EU Copyright Directive.

We're just talking about citizens expressing their views on the Internet and participating in peaceful demonstrations. I actually think the opponents of that ill-conceived, misguided bill are too nice for their own good. Mudslinging and naming & shaming are not the name of the game, but sometimes it's hard to win entirely without them. Apart from some Internet memes involving one MEP (Axel Voss), they haven't really attacked some people as hard as they could have and in my view should have. My brothers-in-arms in the fight against the EU software patent directive, the FFII activists, maintained a wiki on which they documented the lies of countless politicians. I remember how some MEPs were really upset, especially when they realized that those unfavorable wiki pages were among the very first Google search results for their names. I'm quite sure one could research and publish a lot more information about longstanding relationships of numerous MEPs with certain media companies. And even if one did that, citizens would still be citizens, voters would still be voters, and taxpayers would still be taxpayers--not a "mob" unless there's violence involved, or at an absolute minimum, insults that can't be justified with political disagreement.

It's something else when President Trump takes to Twitter in his outspoken way. He's the President, and he gets attacked at a very personal level all the time. Also, he's already campaigning for reelection. But imagine the outcry you'd hear in the U.S. if the DOJ referred to dissidents in an IP context as a "mob!"

The EU Commission's blog post was an embarrassment, and the attempted retraction is ridiculous. If the Commission had officially apologized, then it would have been a regrettable--but rectified--mistake. But this here is as dishonest as it is deficient (click on the screenshot to enlarge; this post continues below the image):

I take issue with that retraction for two reasons:

  • It's an outright lie that the blog post was "understood in a way that doesn't reflect the Commission's position." They just blame the recipients of the post. But I showed you the headline before. What can be misunderstood about "how the mob was told to save the dragon and slay the knight" (emphasis added)? There's simply no plausible alternative explanation for whom they meant by "the mob" other than us dissidents.

  • The URL still contains the insult (as you can also see by enlarging the screenshot further above):

First they said we (including the law professors among us) just didn't understand the effects the proposed piece of legislation would have if adopted. Now they say we just didn't understand an unambiguous headline.

The body of the deleted Medium blog post (still archived here, at least for the time being) wasn't a whole lot better--though more civilized--than the headline. For an example, they point to the (aggregate) trillion-dollar market cap of Silicon Valley giants. I'm dividing my time between California and Germany this year, and at a Silicon Valley breakfast meeting an executive (of a non-party to the disputes I comment on) told me that in his own experience, based on meetings with Commission officials in Brussels, the problem is that there's a lot of envy of Silicon Valley. He noted that EU officials appear to be more interested in how they can potentially weaken those companies than in how something similar could develop in Europe. The removed blog post validated that observation.

It's a dangerous obsession. Decisions and initiatives resulting from the aforementioned mindset won't strengthen the European economy on the bottom line, but they will harm European consumers. In some cases, the unintended consequence could even be that misguided legislation and regulation strengthens a company like Google. For an example, the bargaining power of news publishers will be quite limited as they need traffic, so Article 11 will likely be counterproductive and only serve to cement Google's news monopoly.

Even without the "mob" insult, the metaphor of a dragon (meaning Facebook and Google) versus a knight missed the point. This is not the black-and-white world of fairy tales. Yes, it's important to keep an eye on what such powerful players are doing. But no, if something is intended to weaken them, it won't necessarily make the world a better place. It takes more than that.

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