Today, Wikipedia remains black to protest against impending upload filters. Organizational researcher Maximilian Heimstädt explains what is behind it and why the resistance to EU copyright reform could succeed.
The decision is due next week: The EU Parliament finally votes on the new copyright directive. The reform is highly controversial, especially Article 13 brings tens of thousands of people on the street. Critics fear upload filters that could violate fundamental rights and jeopardize the free network.
Critics include the German version of Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia. Therefore, it shuts off this Thursday to draw attention to the implications of Article 13. Maximilian Heimstädt researches new forms of organization at the University of Witten / Herdecke and is particularly interested in the digital civil society,
SZ: Who wants to read this Thursday something in Wikipedia, sees only a protest page. What is that supposed to help?
Maximilian Heimstädt: In 2012 there was already a similar action against two planned copyright laws in the US. At that time, the German Wikipedia also participated. The laws were later withdrawn, and the blackout has made some contribution.
A website is not available for 24 hours. That should impress politicians?
Wikipedia is one of the ten largest websites in Germany, many people use it daily. Your reach is enormous. Attention definitely generates that. The effectiveness depends on how Wikipedia designs the blackout page. In that case, I think this is really successful: The community denounces not only, but explains why it rejects the reform, and specifically refers to the possibility of protest: you should contact MPs, demonstrating on 23 March and participate in the European elections in May , I think online protests and offline actions work pretty well together. That can make a difference.
You said it yourself: Wikipedia is one of the most visited websites. A blackout means that millions of people are cut off from information. Is that still proportionate?
Personally, I think the protest is appropriate. Behind this is the idea: we deprive the visitors for 24 hours of access to free knowledge in order to secure its existence in the long term. Wikipedia itself would be exempted from Article 13 and its associated upload filters. But the Wikimedia society operates other projects, such as the media archive Wikimedia Commons. There is no exception for this, as well as for many pages that appear as sources in Wikipedia entries. Article 13 would not affect Wikipedia directly, but it would harm it indirectly.
The opposition to Article 13 unites very different actors: lawyers, activists, privacy advocates, net politicians and Youtubers pursue the same goal. Has this ever happened?
Issues such as NSA surveillance, data retention and federal trojans have also united traditional civil rights activists and new net activists in the past. What I find particularly interesting this time is the mobilization potential of the Youtuber. I get the impression that the politicians underestimated how much the Youtubers are able to get their viewers on the streets. They translate the more juridical and technical subject so that it affects the real life of their audience.
Is the Youtuber and its subscribers' protest more effective than the established net politics scene?
No, that goes hand in hand. The demonstrations were largely organized by the established actors. That then but so many people have come, I would attribute that to the Youtubers. Some provide the protest infrastructure, others fill it with life.
Proponents of the reform accuse the opponents of being instrumentalized by big companies like Google. Will the protest be controlled from Silicon Valley?
Of course, especially Youtube has a massive self-interest to prevent the reform. There is already strong mood. The same applies to the other side, as well as a financially strong lobby from the film and music industry, collecting societies and press publishers. They put prominent artists in front of their carts to publicly represent their interests. In this respect, I see there equality of arms.
Who goes against the reform on the street, makes in your opinion so not the vicarious agents of the tech companies?
I believe that a majority of the participants in the demonstrations are really intrinsically motivated. Here people want to defend how they communicate and express themselves on the net. They are not just fooled by Youtube.
Support for the directive comes from the business community, but also from copyright initiatives, associations and unions. Are there any actors in digital civil society who support the new copyright?
It is not that digital civil society rejects the whole reform. The protest is specifically directed against individual components, especially against Articles 11 and 13. I am not aware of any organization that I myself count as a digital civil society supporting these articles.
All consider the criticisms so serious that they reject the entire reform?
Basically, reform opponents are in agreement: The current copyright must be redesigned urgently. No one is against artists and creatives being appropriately remunerated. Only the opponents consider the impending upload filters to be so problematic that they demand a completely new start for the reform.
Finally, a look into the future: Do you think that the MEPs are impressed by the reform opponents and stop the directive next week after all?
I think there is still room for change, at least as far as Articles 11 and 13 are concerned. This is also shown by the initiative of the CDU, which has announced that it intends to prevent upload filters in Germany. I wonder then: why not at the EU level? But that also shows that the pressure that is being made on the web and on the street arrives in politics and in the parties.