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European Wikipedias have been turned off for the day to protest dangerous copyright laws

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Sites including Reddit, Twitch, and PornHub are also encouraging users in the EU to contact local politicians

The homepage of Wikipedia.de (courtesy of Google Translate).

Websites and businesses across Europe today are protesting controversial changes to online copyright being introduced by the European Union.

Ahead of a final vote on the legislation next Tuesday, March 26th, a number of European Wikipedia sites are going dark for the day, blocking all access and directing users to contact their local EU representative to protest the laws. Other major sites, such as Twitch and PornHub, are showing protest banners on their homepages and social media. Meanwhile, any users uploading content to Reddit will be shown this notice:

Critics of the Copyright Directive say it could lead to messages like this.

The law in question is the EU Copyright Directive, a long-awaited update to copyright law. Although the directive mostly contains common-sense changes for the internet age, two provisions have been singled out by critics as potentially dangerous.

These are Article 11, which lets publishers charge platforms if they link to their stories (the ‘link tax’), and Article 13, which makes platforms legally responsible for users uploading copyrighted material (the so-called ‘upload filter’).

Champions of the directive say these laws will give publishers and content creators the tools they need to reclaim the value of their work from US tech giants. But critics say the politicians behind the legislation do not understand the breadth of the laws they are proposing, and that the directive, if implemented, will harm free expression online.

Article 13 is particularly dangerous, say critics. It will make all platforms hosting user-generated content (everything from Imgur to Tumblr to YouTube) legally responsible for users uploading copyrighted content. The only way to stop these uploads, say critics, will be to scan content before its uploaded, leading to the creation of filters that will likely be error-prone and abused by copyright trolls.

Wikimedia, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia, said the rules would be a “net loss for free knowledge.” Volunteer editors for the German, Czech, Danish, and Slovak Wikipedias have all blacked out their sites for the day — an action that recalls the much more widespread internet blackouts that took place in 2012 to protest the controversial US SOPA bill.

As well as the website blackouts today, more than five million internet users have signed a petition protesting Article 13. Marches and demonstrations are also planned in European cities across the weekend and on Monday and Tuesday before the final vote.

That the vote was scheduled as early as possible suggests the EU is worried the legislation won’t now pass, says Diego Naranjo, a senior policy advisor at digital rights group EDRi.

“The only reason I can imagine [they chose that date] is that they’re trying to avoid public pressure,” Naranjo told The Verge. “They are receiving tonnes of calls, emails, and tweets, and trying to pass this as quickly as possible because they’re afraid they’ll lose.”

Naranjo said that despite the fact that efforts to vote down the copyright directive have failed at every turn to date, there’s still a chance lawmakers will listen to the protests this time. “I’m quite optimistic we can win this,” he said.