Copyright’s threat to freedom of expressions: IFLA submits recommendations to UN special Rapporteur

The way people produce and access information has changed in the last decades. Internet platforms, for instance, make it possible for content – especially from new voices – to reach wide audiences. While some of the content shared might represent straightforward infringement,  a big part of it consists of original, user generated content.

Libraries, as defenders of access to information and of freedom of expression, are concerned about the impact that upload filters can have on this new content. An obligation to filter what is uploaded on a platform, through automated means and not on a case-by-case basis, implies that all speech is subject to policing before it is heard.

Following the call for submissions by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression on the subject of content regulation in the digital age, IFLA shared concerns and recommendations with regards to automated upload filters. In the submission, IFLA also comments on global removals, privacy of library users, content regulation processes and moderation.

More specifically, the submission highlighted the risk that upload filtering measures will create negative effects on the services that libraries provide. University libraries often run institutional repositories that host research papers uploaded by faculty and students. The amount of works makes it impossible, in most cases, to check if copyright is cleared. However, upload filters, unless extremely well-developed, risk blocking files that could legitimately be uploaded and whose openness is key to the research community. Moreover, it is not clear that library budgets could face the cost of such software. What is surer still is that they cannot face the costs of litigation.

As stated in the document, IFLA “recommends that extreme caution be applied in using automatic moderation techniques. The evidence that the working of algorithms can even escape the understanding of their creators only adds to the concern about whether they are working transparently. We recommend that where they are applied, it should only be in conjunction with human judgement”.