The EU Copyright Directive, which has now been adopted by the EU Parliament, has been the subject of controversy, including e-mail bombardments of members of the European Parliament. The WebSchauder blog has reported and revealed who is behind the alleged citizens‘ protest.
This current campaign against the directive is similar to the dispute over the introduction of legal rules on net neutrality. Danish consultant John Strand produced an excellent study on this subject back in 2016 („The Moment of Truth – A Portrait of the Fight For Hard Net Neutrality Regulation by Save the Internet and Other Internet Activists“). Among other things, the study investigates the economic backgrounds of the participants and also describes campaigns carried out in the USA and India.
This article presents the similarities and differences between these alleged civil society campaigns.
There are two groups that have diametrically opposed interests. On the one side, there are always the tech giants (Google, Amazon, Netflix, Mozilla, Microsoft, etc.) and, on the other, the telecommunications companies or the copyright owners.
On the subject of net neutrality, telecommunications companies and network operators (e.g. Telekom, Vodafone, etc.) would like to take advantage of innovative models to develop both markets and access to the networks. Those who generate the most traffic on the Internet (for example Google/YouTube, Netflix, Amazon) are afraid of having to pay for it and insist on equal treatment of all content, which ultimately means free use of data networks.
Today, increasing amounts of data have to be sent through the lines faster and faster. At the same time, the prices for Internet access seem to have been carved in stone for years. Network providers are stuck in the dilemma of constantly having to invest in their own network and not being able to adjust prices.
The EU Copyright Directive deals with the content itself that is distributed via these networks. The copyright owners would like to be remunerated appropriately for the use of their content, moreover, those who earn money with this content (especially platforms such as YouTube) do not want to pay for it. At the moment, they pay as they like or let the „partners“ run the full economic risk if they will get advertising revenue on their content or not.
In addition to the groups mentioned, citizens also have interests. In the case of net neutrality, these are rather diffuse and are most likely to be explained by the fear expressed by some consumers that they might have to pay more.
This is much clearer in the debate on content. Various studies about the user of piracy have repeatedly shown how important it is for some users to receive content free of charge.
As profiteers of this system, the Tech giants cannot admit that they still want to get network and content for free. So, they have to find „better“ arguments. Preferably arguments which affect the people emotionally.
Therefore, it doesn’t matter whether the arguments are based on truth. MEP Julia Reda claimed that EVERYTHING on the internet will be filtered in the future if the directive is adopted. Mozilla’s campaign was more personal: “everything you put on the Internet will be filtered, and even blocked.”.
The argumentation likes to refer to an allegedly endangered freedom of speech, as in a slogan of the net neutrality debate „Network Operators Want to Limit Freedom of Speech“.
The key players and their financial backers
While the telecommunications companies and the media industry work with the usual political instruments and disclose the companies and associations involved, the Tech giants use a different strategy.
Officially, they are moderate. The aggressive political protest is secretly organized. Other organizations, some of them declared as civil rights movements, are used for this purpose.
Their activists – these are often people who protest full-time – like to join in. Those who „sign“ get involved with a few clicks („clicktivism“) and feel part of the community. This has little to do with political participation.
The activists receive substantial funding from the Tech giants or the owners of the Tech giants. John Strand reveals that both the “Ford Foundation” and George Soro’s “Open Society Foundation” own substantial stakes in Google/Alphabet and other Tech giants. This explains why the foundations are committed to the interests of the Tech giants. These two foundations alone have invested US$ 200 million in the fight for legally regulated net neutrality, with Google and Netflix spending on top. The telecom industry invested just US$ 90 million.
So, it’s no wonder that the main campaign site on net neutrality in the US, safetheinternet.com, was launched by “Free Press”, an organization funded by George Soros.
Organizer and main financial backer of the European branch, safetheinternet.eu, was EDRi. EDRi is essentially financed by foundations (including George Soro’s „Open Society Foundation“) as well as by Google, Mozilla to name but a few. The importance of these funds is shown by the negligible share of membership fees in the EDRi budget, which was 6% of revenues in 2015.
At AccessNow, a supporter of safetheinternet.eu and operator of the second campaign site, thisisnetneutrality.org, Google was the second most important financial backer.
The campaign against the Copyright Directive (safeyourinternet) was organized by Copyright for Creativity (C4C). The organization has 42 members (EFF, Edri, BEUC, etc.) and, according to its own statements, is mainly financed by the “Open Society Foundation” and the “Computer & Communications Industry Association” (CCIA), an organization of the tech giants.
Responsible for the implementation is the Belgian lobby agency N-Square, a lobby company of the KDC Group, which also works for Google.
In his study, Strand examines the campaign organized via e-mail for net neutrality. In the end, prefabricated text parts were sent to many members of parliament using online tools. So, only 4,000 to 5,000 senders could send over 95,000 e-mails for the campaign.
The current campaign against the EU Copyright Directive has been technically upgraded. Tools make it possible to send mass e-mails or mass tweets. In addition, there were petitions and the recommendation to make technically supported telephone calls to the MEPs‘ offices in which callers had to follow scripts. Such telephone calls are an excellent way to paralyze the work of the offices. Therefore, the June campaign mainly listed the MEPs who were assumed to be in favor of upload filters.
In terms of quantity, the current campaign was more successful. Some EU parliamentarians reported having received 60,000 emails. However, there are also often several e-mails from one individual sender. In total, 6 million emails appear to have been dispatched to EU parliamentarians.
Individual e-mails were sent directly to several MEPs. In order to give the petitioners the impression that this was an action from the civil society, the tools for these services partly tried to disguise the real operators. The imprint obligation of the e-commerce directive is often ignored.
Who’s calling – International pressure
John Strand explains how the associations artificially expand through international networking.
This also applies to citizen participation. John Strand found that at least 30 percent of e-mails sent to MEPs came from the USA.
With regard to the anti-upload filter campaign, there has been no investigation of the e-mails so far. However, tests have shown that the technical tools (telephone, e-mail, tweets) could be used without any identification, with fake information about the sender and also from the USA. An analysis of the tweets shows that 56,000 of the tweets sent between June and 1 August under the hashtag #safeyourinternet came from Europe and 70,000 from North America, including 66,000 from Washington DC alone.
If most of the tweets came at night, it becomes obvious that the actors not only relied on their supporters, but also used additional bots.
In order to reach the citizens, it is no longer enough to rely on the old data bases of the activists. They also invested in advertising. There were paid tweets, which were then forwarded by individual politicians. In Poland an advertising campaign was organized via propellerads, an advertising network closely linked to Internet piracy.
Although the fight was even more aggressive, as John Strand had feared, and citizens were approached in a more personal way when they were asked to save „their“ Internet, the tech giants did not prevail. They didn´t get much more than a postponement of the decision. The politicians were „Totally pissed off“ by the spamming.
Notwithstanding, the Canadian Open Media organization wrote that they still want to influence the European state governments: “OpenMedia is pressuring EU member states to stand up to corporate interests and vote down the Link Tax and Censorship Machines for good. Will you donate to help our efforts?”.
Mass mailings of standard texts sent by citizens, who had been stirred up by fake facts, have little to do with a political debate.
The failure to mobilize demonstrators (they only managed to get around 800 demonstrators in total across Europe) has shown how little support the activists have in the population.
In this respect it becomes clear how important it is to identify more precisely who is trying to exert an influence. This indirect influence not only takes place in contact with politicians but also in regulators committees. Strand shows that in the BEREC dialogue „Net Neutrality Stakeholder“ half of the organizations were supported by Google. This was worst in the group „Consumer and End-User organizations and Civil Society“, where 3 out of 4 of the organizations represented had received money from Google.
You can find a version of this article with footnotes here.