Volker Rieck runs a German anti-piracy operation, and over the last year or so has been an increasingly vocal — if somewhat unhinged — supporter of Article 13 and the EU Copyright Directive. I won’t link, but a few quick Google searches will find some examples of Rieck trying to build out conspiracy theories of big giant American internet companies secretly running the entirety of the anti-Article 13 push in Europe. You could say that some of them dip into red yarn on a corkboard territory. Of course, as we’ve discussed before, the idea that any attacks on Article 13 are all really because of Google has been a key part of the pro-Article 13 lobbying strategy from the beginning. Of course, as we’ve highlighted, if you look at the actual lobbying, it’s been almost entirely from legacy copyright organizations, with very little coming from the internet industry. This has created all sorts of conspiracy theories, including the crazy claim by a German MEP that he knew the emails he was getting against Article 13 were really astroturf from Google… because many of the senders had Gmail accounts.
Rieck’s latest move, however, goes into really nutty territory. In a now deleted story, Rieck claimed to have found something of a smoking gun, proving that Article 13 criticism was really being driven by US corporate interests: in a “study” that he helped “conduct,” and resulted in him sending an explosive “warning” letter to Members of the EU Parliament, he claimed to have uncovered that “more tweets (88,000) came from Washington (DC) alone than from the entire EU (71,000).” That would certainly be interesting if it were true.
The problem with that claim? It’s not even close to true. It is based on Rieck not fully understanding the software they used to do this analysis, called Talkwalker. Luca Hammer initially called into question the use of Talkwalker (while our own Glyn Moody had called out another big problem with the data used in the study months ago). But the biggest issue was this: Talkwalker itself admits that if users haven’t turned on location tracking on Twitter, then it just “guesses” their location based on a few factors — with a fallback being language. And, if there are no other indicators of location, Talkwalker will associate all English tweets with being in Washington DC, i.e., the capital of the largest country where English is the primary language.
In other words, what looks like a grand conspiracy of a bot sending tweets about EU copyright policy out of the lobbying den of Washington DC, actually appears to be some pro-copyright maximalists completely misunderstanding the tool they were using to do an analysis. Not a good look.
Of course, some of the supporters of Article 13, like IMPALA Music have continued tweeting this “study” despite it being totally debunked, but I guess that’s to be expected.
In the meantime, as law professor Annemarie Bridy correctly points out, even if this is about legislation for the EU, it’s crazy to think that people in the US have no stake in the outcome. First off, EU legislation can reach well beyond the borders of the EU and into the US: witness GDPR and the Right to be Forgotten (remember, in France, they’ve been arguing that the RTBF, as applied in the EU, must be global in nature). Second, as we’ve seen for decades, copyright maximalists push ever more crazy copyright policies in one region of the world, and then demand “harmonization” elsewhere, pushing that the same rules be applied in other places. Going to Europe to get a crazy copyright law put in place, and then rushing back to the US to demand matching laws is not a new idea. It’s literally how we got the DMCA in the first place.
So, no, the criticism of Article 13 is not being driven by some sneaky campaign out of Washington DC, but that also doesn’t mean that American voices shouldn’t be able to participate in a debate that will undoubtedly impact us and the internet we use.