How Facebook may neuter the EU Copyright Directive


Just a wild guess, really. Your comments are very appreciated.

Yesterday the European Parliament approved a new copyright directive that, among other things, should finally force web walled gardens like Facebook to be fair, by forcing them to pay media companies a “link tax” in order to share articles. Specifically, Article 11 of that directive should finally give publishers an effective way to “ask for paid licenses when their news stories are shared by online platforms”.

I already wrote last year why I believe that Article 11 may likely destroy its main supporters, with end results that may be good for everybody, except those same supporters.

Today, what we came to know in 2019 about Facebook strategies make me wonder even more if article 11 will work as intended. Or if it may even have anything to work on, in the long term.

The “New Direction for Facebook”: away from Article 11?

In 2019, we have been informed that Facebook wants to be WeChat. This means shifting the company’s focus:

*“from a sprawling series of social apps to a one-stop shop messaging service that combines everything the company has to offer.”*

What matters here is the “privacy-first approach” to this messaging service. That approach will be based on end-to-end-encryption that will “make it impossible for everybody, including Facebook” to read what users are sharing with each other. Maybe.

How Facebook may neuter the EU Copyright Directive /img/zuckerberg-laughing.jpg
Mark Zuckerberg, here shown as extremely worried at the mere thought of Article 11

Article 11? Sure, go ahead

And here is my (again) totally wild guess. With end-to-end encryption, Facebook will:

  1. still “make tons of money by monetizing analysis of METADATA about encrypted messages”
  2. in a way that neuters Article 11, giving publishers just a tiny, tiny fraction of the money they hope to make of it. Because, you know, end-to-end encryption.

Here are some statements I imagine coming from Zuckerberg in 2020 and beyond (*):

  • now we ourselves at Facebook cannot know for sure, even if we wanted, which article snippets our users are sharing
  • Consequently, it is impossible to calculate the fair percentage due to publishers.
  • Yes, we are making even money than before thanks to (1) above, but it is all in ways that are impossible to prove they are in the scope of Article 11.
  • What? This makes you go bankrupt? We are so sorry. Guess we will have to produce news by ourselves, then
  • Luckily, we at Facebook can survive without Western advertising money anyway
  • and even without Western traditional publishers, if these news production projects that, by mere coincidence of course, we are already testing in Africa work as intended
  • Please continue to regulate the wrong stuff and make the wrong proposals to neutralize us
  • PS: this is what you Europeans deserve for annoying us with GDPR last year. Privacy? Here you go, and if it destroys your publishers, that is good for us.

Again, just a wild, wild guess for now. No idea if it makes sense or not. It just looked intriguing enough to share, if nothing else as better food for thought about the EU Copyright Directive than much of what I have seen so far.

(*) Note added on 2019/03/27, h10:15am: only after tweeting this post, I discovered that Glyn Moody has made the same general point, without making an explicit conection to Article 11, ten days ago

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