EFF has been writing about the upcoming European Digital Single Market directive on copyright for a long time now. But it’s time to put away the keyboard, and pick up the phone, because the proposal just got worse—and it’s headed for a crucial vote on June 20-21.
For those who need no further introduction to the directive, which would impose an upload filtering mandate on Internet platforms (Article 13) and a link tax in favor of news publishers (Article 11), you can skip to the bottom of this post, where we link to an action that European readers can take to make their voice heard. But if you’re new to this, here’s a short version of how we got here and why we’re worried.
A Brief History
The European Copyright Directive was enacted in 2001 and is now woefully out of date. Thanks in large part to the work of Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda, many good ideas for updating European copyright law were put forward in a report of the European Parliament in July 2015. The European Commission threw out most of these ideas, and instead released a legislative proposal in October 2016 that focused on giving new powers to publishers. That proposal was referred to several of the committees of the European Parliament, with the Parliament’s Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee taking the lead.
As the final text must also be accepted by the Council of the European Union (which can be considered as the second part of the EU’s bicameral legislature), the Council Presidency has recently been weighing in with its own “compromise” proposals (although this is something of a misnomer, as they do little to improve the Commission’s original text, and in some respects make it worse). Not to be outdone, German MEP (Member of the European Parliament) Axel Voss last month introduced a new set of his own proposals [PDF] for “compromise,” which are somehow worse still. Since Voss leads the JURI committee, this is a big problem.
Link Tax Proposal: A Turn for the (Even) Worse
The biggest and most worrisome changes are to the “link tax” proposal, which would establish a special copyright-like fee to be paid by websites to news publishers, in exchange for the privilege of using short snippets of quoted text as part of a link to the original news article. Voss’s latest amendments would make the link tax an inalienable right, that news publishers cannot waive even if they choose to.
The practical effect of this could be to make it impossible for a news publisher to publish their stories for free use, for example by using a Creative Commons license. When a similar inalienable link tax was passed into law in Spain, the country’s biggest news aggregation website, which had been Google News, simply closed its Spanish operation. We can well imagine similar results if the link tax went Europe-wide.
That’s not all. Voss proposes that the beneficiaries of the link tax should include press agencies (who often provide the raw information based upon which other journalists write stories), and that libraries should also be responsible for paying extra fees to publishers in “compensation” for their rental and lending activities.
Although Voss hasn’t managed to make the upload filtering proposal any worse than it was before, it was plenty bad enough already. Although targeted mainly at sites that host video and music uploaded by users, it’s broad enough to extend to extend to any sort of user-uploaded content, including code contributed to platforms like Github, and even text contributed to a user-edited encyclopedia (although Voss would support an amendment excluding non-profit encyclopedias from the law, which may or may not save Wikipedia).
How You Can Take Action
These proposals benefit large publishers, but punish those who use the Internet as an open platform for sharing and innovation. Europeans are running out of time to convince their representatives to reject them. Our friends at Mozilla have developed an excellent tool that Europeans can use to directly contact their representatives to deliver a simple message—delete Article 11, delete Article 13, and instead give us copyright laws that promote competition and innovation online.