EU Politicians Try To Create A New 'Link Tax' To Protect Newspapers Who Don't Like Sites Linking For Free

from the don't-do-this dept

Bad ideas never die. Although there have been some recent minor steps in a positive direction concerning copyright in the EU, politicians have been trying to undermine them with really terrible ideas. We already covered the push to effectively outlaw outdoor photography, and now it appears that (despite already having this proposal voted down), some are pushing for a so-called “ancillary copyright” concept, better known as a snippet tax or a link tax.

The basic idea here is that newspapers that have failed to innovate want to blame third party aggregators (mainly Google News) for somehow “damaging” their business because they link to stories with snippets, and then send traffic to those newspaper websites. We’ve spent years talking about how it’s weird to complain about a giant site sending you traffic, but some old school publishers can’t seem to get past the fact that Google is big and successful while their own sites are not — and assume that means that Google somehow “stole” their revenue. In response, they’ve pushed ridiculous proposals to require anyone who aggregates content with links back to the original to pay a weird fee, above and beyond the traffic that they’re sending.

These plans have backfired pretty much everywhere they’ve been tried. Because it’s nonsensical to charge someone to send you more traffic, aggregators have done things like removing those publishers or removing snippets only to see howls of protest from those same publishers who previously claimed that such things were “stealing.” In the most extreme case, in Spain, where a law was written that made it mandatory for such a link tax, Google News shut down completely — once again leading to howls of protest from the newspapers who previously had been arguing that Google was somehow stealing from them. It’s an odd sort of “stealing” where you’d run complaining to the government when it goes away.

Either way, all this leads to a silly and nonsensical resolution from MEP Angelika Niebler, working with a number of German MEPs (Germany is where the strongest push for a link tax has come from), arguing for a special new copyright right, which it claims is about supporting journalism:

Calls on the Commission to evaluate and come forward with a proposal on how quality journalism can be preserved, even in the digital age, in order to guarantee media pluralism, in particular taking into account the important role journalists, authors and media providers such as press publishers play with regard thereto

While not directly calling for a link tax (which Niebler had pushed in an earlier amendment that had been rejected), it’s a pretty obvious attempt to open the door for such a link tax to return in the near future. In the link above, MEP Julia Reda notes that Niebler’s own party, the European People’s Party (EPP) had already agreed that no more amendments would be added — but Niebler went ahead and added it anyway.

The good folks at OpenMedia are vocally opposing this amendment and have set up a site at SaveTheLink.org with more information. The EU Parliament will vote on this proposal tomorrow. While it won’t determine what the eventual law is, it may help guide dangerous future proposals that could have serious consequences for how the internet works (or doesn’t) in Europe.

It’s time for major publishers to get over the fact that they’ve failed to innovate and failed to keep up with the way the internet works, while others have stepped in and done a better job. Blaming others for your failures is one thing. Looking to the government to change the way the internet and free expression work, just to try to squeeze money out of the companies who did innovate, is a cynical and backwards looking move. EU citizens and their elected officials should not allow it to happen.

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Comments on “EU Politicians Try To Create A New 'Link Tax' To Protect Newspapers Who Don't Like Sites Linking For Free”

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55 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“And how much did you pay to use the content on this site? Climb on board, matey.”

I don’t know, how much did TD make with my visit? I guess you know because otherwise you wouldn’t ask, right?

Besides I’m not linking that side to generate income for myself. But one might argue that by commenting here I generate income for TD so the theoretical correct question would be “How much did TD pay me for commenting here?”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

“Besides I’m not linking that side to generate income for myself”

Yes, google are making an income. But it is not from the news stories themselves but from a service they offer their customers. This service by the way which generates more traffic for the news outlets, it is a win win situation for both google and the newspapers.

The only thing is google can survive without news aggregation the newspapers cannot.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Kinda hard to send someone traffic if you don’t mention them in some way. I mean, which do you think is going to lead to more click-throughs, a bare link to a website, or a link and a snippet of text so people have at least some idea of what the link leads to?

However it’s spun, the newspapers are demanding to be paid for the free traffic and advertising that search engines are providing them, at no cost to the newspapers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

“However it’s spun, the newspapers are demanding to be paid for the free traffic and advertising that search engines are providing them, at no cost to the newspapers.”

Well, then according to you the newspapers must be right. The newspapers don’t pay anything for the free traffic and advertising. So just to clear it up, you are for payment to the newspapers?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

… I honestly can’t tell if you intentionally misread what I wrote, or if you’re just really bad at reading comprehension.

My point, which you apparently missed, either intentionally or not, was that the newspapers are getting something for free that they would normally have to pay for, that being increased traffic towards their site, and free advertising.

They know full well the value of what the search engines are giving them(for free in case you forgot), as evidenced by the screaming and begging the last few times they’ve tried this stunt and Google has called their bluff by pulling the excerpts.

Both times they were practically begging Google to re-list them in a matter of days at most, as the traffic to their sites plummeted without those excerpts showing up, so the idea that Google should, in addition to sending them traffic, be paying for the ‘privilege’, is beyond absurd, and greed at it’s finest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s a symbiotic relationship. Search provides eyeballs for publishers (for ‘free’), the publishers provide content for search (also for ‘free’) and both benefit from the associated ad revenues.

It’d be interesting to see the publisher’s reaction if search was to demand a fee in turn; the publishers clearly value what search provides.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

wow, the first answer that gets it. Grats!

It would really be an interesting moment when people ask to be paid for traffic. On one side for the reaction the publishers would have but on another side what would happen in general.

F.e. TD links to a news story or background information on another site. This site might get traffic from the link but should you be able to force them to pay you?

An extreme example might be a blog post consisting of links only. Each word had a link you can click on. How do you meassure that? What about ppl with ref blockers?

So the best solution is the War Games one, don’t start a war because noone is going to win.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The thing is, this is just another mechanism to set up more middlemen, which makes no economic sense – that actually means that the companies are getting less from paying more.

More importantly, the newspapers obviously didnt’ learn fromt he example of either Spain or France; when these kinds of laws were pushed through, advertising revenues plummeted and threatened those newspapers who had lobbied for those laws.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

Never ceases to amaze the overwhelming sense of entitlement shown by people like this, who seem to honestly believe that anyone who is involved in any fashion with ‘their’ content, even those in a ‘promoting it at no cost’ way, owe them money for the privilege of being involved.

Google and other search engines are sending them increased traffic, at no cost to them, and yet all they can think about is, ‘How can we make them pay for the increased traffic they’re sending our way?’

Companies pay large sums in order to draw in more people to their sites, yet these parasites just can’t get enough, and just can’t stop themselves from attacking the very companies helping them for free. The sooner they crash and burn for good the better off everyone will be, and hopefully their replacements will be a little smarter.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

Never ceases to amaze the overwhelming sense of entitlement shown by people

This is the age of entitlement, so why should this amaze you. The fundamental characteristic of this age is that everyone is ENTITLED to their “whatever”. The problem is that many in this mindset have forgotten that most if not all of these entitlements or rights come as a result of privilege and with that some modicum of responsibility.

As someone else put it, the only real right you have is to choose (the one right that everyone else wants to take away from you, whether it be government, business, your neighbour, etc.) some course of action. But this right requires that you accept responsibility for your choice.

This MEP and the businesses she supports want to remove choice from everyone but themselves and then place responsibility for their choices back onto those that they have removed choice from. How does the meerkat say it – Simple, ehh!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

“This is the age of entitlement, so why should this amaze you. The fundamental characteristic of this age is that everyone is ENTITLED to their “whatever”. “

This “age” has been going on for some time, something on the order of 195,000 years.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

Nah, it has been going on for maybe 40 years. Started in the 60’s and 70’s and has been building ever since. Even in my youth, it was expected that you take responsibility for your choices and actions. Nowadays we see that it is someone else’s fault for the bad decisions that are made.

Mind you, it appears that the litigious nature of the USA has promulgated around the world. When we were young, we always thought you Yanks were real nutcases when you did something obviously stupid and brought out the legal guns to blame someone else for your own stoopidity.

What we have observed since is that this same mindset has moved into other areas like a slow moving bacterial infection that cannot be stopped by the best anti-bacterial medicines available.

It now infects every area of society in lots of nations around the world, from politics to education to business to social welfare to entertainment to etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

I disagree.
You may not have been exposed to it in your youth, but it was there all along. Evidence is scattered throughout the history of the human race.

Some refer to it as human nature, I think of it as animalistic fear. Do unto others before they do unto you.

Hopefully, humans will some day see how this is detrimental to their well being and stop being such dicks.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

I agree with you that it is always in part of the population. However, the extent of this problem has gone far beyond just part of the population to now nearly encompassing all of the population.

This has been one of the big shifts in social dynamics in the last lot of [decayeds].

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

“Never ceases to amaze the overwhelming sense of entitlement shown by people like this, who seem to honestly believe that anyone who is involved in any fashion with ‘their’ content, even those in a ‘promoting it at no cost’ way, owe them money for the privilege of being involved.”

… and they believe that they are allowed to use, without attribution or compensation, any and all content they find anywhere. They just do it and when called out they feign ignorance and blame some lowly intern who they do not even pay. Or, they come up with a bizarre rational for why they are allowed to so and then claim they are being persecuted by relentless nobodies who feel entitled.

JMT says:

Re: Re: Overwhelming greed and short-term gains

“…and they believe that they are allowed to use, without attribution or compensation, any and all content they find anywhere.”

Firstly, providing a link to the content is even better than simple attribution, so you’re wrong there. Second, you don’t explain why they shouldn’t be allowed to use, with attribution, any and all content they find freely distributed anywhere, particular when the linked publisher benefits directly from it at no cost to them.

On that last bit, can you explain why publishers shouldn’t have to compensate news aggregators for providing a service that collects attentive eyeballs and directs them their way? We know it’s a valuable service because they complain when it’s taken away.

Anonymous Coward says:

I seem to recall that Google got fed up with the complaints and demands and cut off search results for some papers in (I think) Spain. The ensuing screams were amazing. Maybe these guys need the same treatment. I don’t see any law or rule that says Google or anyone else has to cite any given provider in it’s results. Cut ’em off and watch the fun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Be careful what you wish for...

…should become the order of the day. Anyone – Google included – should simply keep linking as usual. If a complaint or payment demand is made, honor it by removing the link, snippet and all. Make it a three strikes deal and, after the third request, add the requesting domain to a blacklist…remove all existing links and list no more, unless the domain wants to pay for ad placements. If Google – and the rest of us as owners of websites – publish that policy as part of our TOS and enforce it, this silliness will die.

Teamchaos (profile) says:

How many snippets do you read?

How many snippets of web site content do you read without actually clicking on the link to visit the web site?

That’s probably the issue here. If I read a snippet and decide not to click the link, I’ve read content from the site without actually viewing the site and benefiting the site owner.

It benefits the site with the snippets, because I go there to decide which sites to visit – but the producer of the content receives no benefit unless I click to visit the site.

On the other hand, I wouldn’t even know the site had the content available unless I saw the snippet. I’d never know to visit the site unless I was made aware of the content that it offered. So, aggregators provide free advertising for the sites with content.

I propose that all news aggregators charge an advertising fee to any site they advertise content for by posting snippets equal to any link tax imposed by the new law.

You don’t want to provide me content (snippets) for free, I won’t advertise your content for free.

Anonymous Coward says:

“How many snippets of web site content do you read without actually clicking on the link to visit the web site?”

How many magazine headlines do you read while waiting in line at the grocery store and then not purchase even one of those rags?

“It benefits the site with the snippets, because I go there to decide which sites to visit “

Just like I go to the grocery store to decide which pathetic magazine to buy.

“I propose that all news aggregators charge an advertising fee to any site they advertise content for by posting snippets equal to any link tax imposed by the new law. “

That proposal seems a bit petty

Anonymous Coward says:

So...do they complain about RSS feeds?

…newspapers…want to blame third party aggregators…because they link to stories with snippets, and then send traffic to those newspaper websites…

Do those same newspapers have RSS feeds? Several that do send their links straight to a paywall! NYT, WSJ, Aviation Week to name a few. What’s the difference between an RSS feed and a third party aggregator? BOTH send readers to their stories.

Now getting their story read might be another issue. If there’s a paywall…

tqk (profile) says:

Today's Internet suffers from an implementation problem.

This’s what you get when you hand something fantastically technical to marketing and sales before it’s got its bugs worked out. Part of those “bugs” is education and knowledge transfer to help M&S first understand what it is they’re being given. That never happened. At this rate, I doubt it ever will.

“You’re smart, Geordie. Just make it work.”

GEMont (profile) says:

Round and round we go...

EU citizens and their elected officials should not allow it to happen.

But probably will let it happen – at least long enough to realize their mistake the hard way, as usual.

(Not that I actually think that the EU citizens have any more control over their government’s activities than Americans have over their own government’s activities, of course.)

WisTex (profile) says:

URL are like an Address of a Building

They tried something like that in the USA. In a court case between Microsoft & Ticketmaster, the court concluded that URLs themselves were not copyrightable, writing: “A URL is simply an address, open to the public, like the street address of a building, which, if known, can enable the user to reach the building. There is nothing sufficiently original to make the URL a copyrightable item, especially the way it is used. There appear to be no cases holding the URLs to be subject to copyright. On principle, they should not be.”

As far as snippets, they are covered by the Fair Use provisions of the U.S. copyright law. Unfortunately not all countries have similar laws.

Liz Ryan says:

Traffic Not The Same As Profitability

Hi All

A lot of abuse against ‘greedy publishers’ is being thrown around in this debate. But people are making a basic mis-assumption — that ‘traffic’ to a site is the same as profitability.

In fact, clickbait culture means the old economic models that supported quality journalism are broken. The seriousness of this cannot be overstated — it has contributed to the rise of a ‘post-truth society that allows things like Trump and Brexit.

Google makes money out of content it does not create. The creators of that content have no easy means, nowadays, of making money from it, no matter how high this ‘traffic’ they should apparently be so grateful for.

Perhaps this link tax is a clumsy solution but I don’t see much awareness in the above debate that there’s a real problem out there that the publishers are trying to solve.

Kris says:

> But people are making a basic mis-assumption — that ‘traffic’ to a site is the same as profitability.

Not really. It maybe true that traffic itself isn’t a guarantee for profit. Bu the traffic at least is an opportunity to make profit. If a newsmaker gets lots of traffic and then fails to exploit this opportunity to somehow turn a profit, this isn’t really the agregator’s fault (or problem).

wiretrip (profile) says:

It now appears the news aggregators like Google and the like will soon be required to pay for news content they share.

https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/12/17849868/eu-internet-copyright-reform-article-11-13-approved

The thing is Goolge is no LexisNexis. Such service aggregators like LexisNexis create a searchable database of all content that had originally appeared in print. These service aggregators will pay for the printed content allowing them to have it in their database. In otherwords LexisNexis purchases content that was never released on the internet and make it availabe on their website. Google aggregates content already freely available on the internet. Big difference here wherein LexisNexis generates web traffic exclusively to their website requiring paid membership to access their aggregated content while Google generates traffic to the orinators’ content website.

It’s odd to “tax” Google or the like for the mere act of providing a free “service” benefiting the content owners.

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