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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  1. icon
    WisTex (profile), 27 Jul 2015 @ 7:11pm

    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.

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