EU Parliament Dumps Link Tax, Invites News Publishers To Sue If They Think Google's Making Them Broke
from the won't-hold-my-breath-for-production-of-evidence dept
Last summer, Mike reported the EU Commission was about to institute a “link tax” on news snippets. In essence, the tax would have punished search engines for sending traffic TO news sites. Not only is that part of it a stupid, backwards idea, but previous attempts by European countries to institute link/Google taxes were abject failures, resulting in Google refusing to list taxed news articles in its search results.
Readers were invited to comment on the proposed tax. It’s not clear whether those comments were heard above the overly-confident dull roar of industry lobbyists, but whatever the turning point was, the link tax idea is dead. What’s being offered to publishers is something completely different: an opportunity to sue Google, et al for supposed infringement.
The decision by copyright rapporteur and European People’s Party MEP Therese Comodini Cachia is a mixed result for European publishers, who had lobbied for legislation allowing them to charge companies like Google and Yahoo when they display parts of their articles, including headlines and snippets.
While the proposed measure falls short of that ambition, it would create a legal channel through which publishers would be able to attempt to enforce their claims. “Press publishers are given the right to bring proceedings in their own name before tribunals against infringers of the rights held by the authors of the works contained in their press publication,” reads the report.
Say goodbye to ancillary rights and hello to pointless litigation. The latter is the better idea, though. This puts the burden on news agencies to show they’ve been harmed by increased referral traffic. This proposal isn’t making many European publishers happy.
“Comodini’s draft report fails to deliver for press publishers,” said Wout van Wijk, executive director of industry association News Media Europe. “All that this will potentially do is lead to more litigation.”
Publishers don’t have to sue. It’s not mandatory. They could just sit back and enjoy the additional traffic. As the EU Parliament points out in its proposal, Google’s news snippets aren’t “necessarily disproportionately harmful” to publishers and may very well increase traffic to their sites and provide them with new subscribers. It’s pretty much impossible to present evidence of harm when there’s no evidence to be had. The whole “link tax” idea rests on publishers’ unfounded claims Google, etc. are responsible for the financial woes of the continent’s new agencies. There are multiple factors to consider, but publishers seem to focus solely on Google, as if news publishers and Google were engaged in a zero sum profitability game.
The report also points out a link tax might have a chilling effect on thousands of citizens who have nothing to do with the search engine giant. Its report notes the non-commercial sharing of links is an important part of societal communication and levying a tax on sharing is no way to encourage speech. Shifting the burden of proof to publishers challenges them to put their theoretically “lost” money where their mouths are… which is the way it should be.