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There Was Heavy Tech Lobbying On Article 13... From The Company Hoping To Sell Everyone The Filters


One of the key themes we've been hearing for years now concerning the EU's awful Article 13 section of the EU Copyright Directive, was that no one should pay any attention at all to the critics of Article 13, because it's all just "big tech lobbying" behind any of the criticism. In the past, we highlighted a few of these claims:

Here's Geoff Taylor from BPI:

The US tech lobby has been using its enormous reach and resources to try to whip up an alarmist campaign...

And here's Richard Ashcroft from PRS for Music:

the Internet giants... have whipped up a social media storm of misinformation about the proposed changes in order to preserve their current advantage.

And how about UK Music's Michael Dugher who really wants to blame Google for everything:

Some absolute rubbish has been written about the EU’s proposed changes on copyright rules.

Amongst the ludicrous suggestions from the likes of Google is the claim that the shake-up will mean the end of memes, remixes and other user-generated content. Some have said that it will mean ‘censorship’ and even wildly predicted it will result in the ‘death of the internet’.

This is desperate and dishonest. Whilst some of the myths are repeated by people who remain blissfully untroubled by the technical but crucially important details of the proposed EU changes, in the worst cases this propaganda is being cynically pedalled by big tech like Google’s YouTube with a huge vested and multi-million-pound interest in this battle.

However, as we wrote about back in December, an analysis that looked at the actual lobbying efforts around copyright in the EU found that it was done overwhelmingly by the legacy copyright industries, and only sparingly by the tech companies. In that post, I went through a spreadsheet looking at the lobbying of the EU Commission, and found that over 80% of the meetings were from the entertainment industry.

However, as is coming out now, there was definitely one "tech" company that was one of the most aggressive lobbyists on Article 13. However, it was lobbying in favor of it, and that's because it knew that Article 13 would lead to an artificial, but highly inflated demand for internet filters. And that's the company known for building the filtering technology behind nearly all of the non-ContentID copyright filters: Audible Magic.

Law professor Annemarie Bridy recently posted a detailed Twitter thread of Audible Magic's lobbying activities regarding Article 13. It's easy to see why the company did so, because the law, if put into effect, would be a huge, huge benefit for Audible Magic, more or less forcing nearly every internet platform of a decent size to have to purchase Audible Magic's technology. Indeed, in the run-up to Article 13, we heard directly from policymakers in the EU who would point to Audible Magic as "proof" that filtering technology was readily available for not much money and that it worked. Neither of these claims are accurate.

On the fees, Audible Magic has a public pricing page that has been frequently pointed out by supporters of Article 13, often with the claim "fees start as low as $1,000 per month." But... that's not accurate. The $1,000 only applies to "on device" databases. Hosted databases start at $2,000 per month, which is already double that... and the $2,000 per month only covers very low levels of usage. Indeed, the usage rates are so low that it's unlikely to think that any company that used Audible Magic at that rate would be making very much (if any) money at all -- meaning that relatively speaking, Audible Magic would be a huge margin killer. And the rates quickly go up from there. Indeed, on Audible Magic's pricing page, as soon as you get to a level that one might consider "sustainable" for a business, the prices become "contact us."

A few years back I spoke with one mid-sized streaming company, who told me Audible Magic was quoting them fees that were between $30,000 to $60,000 per month. An academic paper from 2017 found pricing to be slightly lower than what I had heard, but still quite expensive:

Commercial fingerprinting and filtering services, such as Audible Magic and Vobile, do not publicly release pricing. But we can guess at the ballpark: one medium-sized file hosting service reported that its license for Audible Magic filtering cost $10,000-12,000 per month in 2011 (though this provider was later able to negotiate a reduced rate based on the amount of content flagged through the system). Another estimated that Audible Magic cost its service roughly $25,000 per month. OSPs noted that the licensing fees are just the beginning. Filtering systems, several OSPs noted, are not turnkey services. They require integration with existing systems and upkeep as the OSP takes on new mediation roles between rightsholder and user (such as tracking and managing user appeals).

In other words, those things get really pricey quickly -- such that it becomes untenable for all but the largest of service providers.

And that leads us to the second part, about whether or not they work. As we've been detailing for years, the answer is clearly no. These fingerprinting technologies make both false positive and false negative errors all the time. We probably have a few examples sent our way every single day. Incredibly, the very lobbying video that Bridy points out Audible Magic created as part of its lobbying effort says that Audible Magic's technology is accurate to about 99%.

Last summer, we highlighted that Alec Muffett created a "simulator" that would look at the the error rates on such filtering technology -- and it noted that if you went with an accuracy level of 99.5% (higher than even Audible Magic claims) and ran it across 10 million pieces of content, you'd end up censoring approximately 50,000 pieces of content that were non-infringing. 50,000. And that's assuming the technology is even more accurate than even Audible Magic will claim.

And, of course, that's solely discussing the matching accuracy. It says absolutely nothing about understanding user rights -- like fair use, fair dealing, parody, etc -- none of which Audible Magic takes into account (meaning even more non-infringing works would get censored).

And, yet, as Bridy shows, Audible Magic has been lobbying hard for this:

It's not surprising that they'd lobby for such a thing. I mean, which company wouldn't lobby for a new law that would effectively require thousands of internet companies to buy your product for which there is little to no real competition (oh yeah, which almost certainly means Audible Magic would likely raise prices once the government required everyone to buy its filters).

Bridy highlights that their lobbying claims are complete bullshit as well:

Quite incredible that they highlight the "voluntary" nature of the filters while lobbying for making their technology required under law. And equally ridiculous that they claim that intermediary liability protections some how create "barriers" for online services. That, as Bridy points out, is exactly the opposite of reality. Safe harbors create clear rules that platforms understand so they know what they need to do to set up a legit platform. Removing those rules, as Article 13 does, and requiring expensive (and terrible) technology is a huge barrier, as the cost is prohibitive for most.

There's more in that thread, but as Bridy shows, Audible Magic's own presentation shows that it knows who the "winner" of Article 13 will be: Audible Magic inserting itself to become the de facto "copyright filter" layer of the internet:

So, yeah, there was some "tech" lobbying for Article 13 and its mandatory filters. It was just coming from the biggest supplier of those filters.


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