CC still opposes mandatory filtering and so should you

Yuanxiao Xu

As part of Creative Commons’ key strategic goal of Better Sharing, we have taken a firm stance against mandatory content filtering on the internet. In new proposed legislation, the U.S. Congress is now raising mandatory content filtering again as a tool to eliminate infringement of copyrighted works. For those who are new to the discussion, mandatory filtering would require that all information providers enable software that prevents the distribution of materials claimed by rightsholders. If you’ve ever uploaded videos to YouTube, you’ve seen content filters at work: videos are scanned for copyrighted audio like popular music before they are published, and sometimes videos are blocked even when they are legal to share. Policy that forces every digital publisher, platform, and service provider to adopt similar filters would make this broken model universal. CC has long stated that the effects of mandatory filtering are devastating to free speech, as well as the sharing of culture and knowledge. CC has also spoken out against filtering mandates and opposed their introduction in the European Union.

Earlier this year, we explained why we are strongly opposed to the proposed “Strengthening Measures to Advance Rights Technologies (SMART) Copyright Act of 2022”. A few weeks ago, we submitted a Comment to the U.S. Copyright Office in response to its Notice of Inquiry; in it, we continue to advocate that no internet services should be forced to adopt Standard Technical Measures (STMs), or any other mandatory filtering systems, imposed by the government.

Specifically, we stated in our Comment that we did not believe the law mandated STMs, and that the law must continue not to require them. While service providers should be free to choose to use filtering as a tool to aid in compliance for a first-level review, filters should never be the final say in what materials are shared with the public.

In June, Creative Commons was invited to present its position on mandatory filtering at a workshop organized by the Internet Archive entitled “Libraries and the Digital Information Ecosystem: Towards an Affirmative Policy Agenda for a Better Internet.” (The workshop is a continuation of the Better Internet initiative.)

Our lightning talk presentation centered on the damaging effects of mandatory copyright filtering for library communities; mainly, that such policy was at odds with providing the public with access to information. We reiterated that mandatory filtering, by design, does not respect limitations and exceptions to authors’ exclusive rights, but respects only the interests of the largest rightsholders. These simplistic technical tools unfortunately do not account for the context of uses such as education, research, preservation, or critical commentary; they see only matches for content, and many cannot even do that well. Even the most sophisticated systems available today give too many false positives to legally authorized material uploaded by users. (Examples include public domain recordings of classical music mistakenly flagged as major label recordings of those pieces, and an hour long loop of a cat purring being misidentified as a song.)

The mission of libraries is to connect people with the information they need, not to enforce the barriers that keep people away from it; the introduction of mandatory copyright filters stifles this mission. Creative Commons believes that no internet services, including libraries, should be forced to adopt filtering systems, nor bear the cost of implementing any mandatory filtering systems.

Fundamentally, Creative Commons does not believe that the effort to completely eliminate copyright infringements is worth the harm such schemes would cause. Our mission for Better Sharing respects both authors’ rights and the rights of the public who teach, learn, criticize, and reference, and we must oppose any mandatory filtering scheme that does not respect these rights.