With Copyright Reform, Is Europe About To Declare “War On The Hyperlink”?
European Commission may be seeking to help European publishers generate new revenue from links, which was already tried and failed in Germany and Spain.
The European Commission (EC) and other European Parliamentary Committees are working to “harmonize” copyright laws across Europe. There’s a fragmented set of laws and enforcement structures that the EC wants to fix pursuant to its ambition to create a single digital market.
This makes considerable sense as Europe seeks to compete globally and to provide uniform content access to Europeans across the continent. That’s part of the rationale behind copyright reform embodied in a “leaked report” on copyright reform (embedded below) from the EC:
The range of online content available in one’s home country does not reflect the breadth of Europe’s cultural production and legal content offers online of European works are still far from realising their full potential. This is particularly the case for European audiovisual works, which in many instances struggle to be distributed, including online, beyond one Member State.
While much of the discussion in the report is about the abstract need to reconcile disparate copyright rules, German politician and member of the European Parliament Julia Reda sounded an alarm about a potential “attack on the hyperlink” contained within the document.
She argues that under the guise of unifying copyright rules, the EC is actually seeking to impose the disastrous policy of “ancillary copyright” on hyperlinks, which could require permission and/or licensing fees — simply to embed links in a piece of digital content — unless subject to a copyright exception.
I read the report, and I didn’t have quite the same reaction. However, as a European MP, she’s much closer to the discussion. Here’s Reda’s statement of the problem:
The European Commission is preparing a frontal attack on the hyperlink, the basic building block of the Internet as we know it. This is based on an absurd idea that just won’t die: Making search engines and news portals pay media companies for promoting their freely accessible articles . . . .
[The] Commission is considering putting the simple act of linking to content under copyright protection. This idea flies in the face of both existing interpretation and spirit of the law as well as common sense. Each weblink would become a legal landmine and would allow press publishers to hold every single actor on the Internet liable.
Ancillary copyright laws were enacted last year and this year, in Germany and Spain, after intense lobbying by traditional publishers who, along with sympathetic politicians, sought to obtain revenue from digital “aggregators” of news content such as Google, which were linking to news stories or displaying rich snippets. These efforts were overwhelmingly a failure for all parties and led to the closure of Google News in Spain:
- German Newspaper Publisher Trying To Bring Failed “Google Tax” To All Of Europe
- Strict New Copyright Law Forces End Of Google News In Spain
- German Publishers To Google: We Want Our Snippets Back
Reda believes that a primary motivation behind the copyright reform effort is to force “search engines and news portals to pay media companies for promoting their freely accessible articles.” If that is indeed at the core of the reform effort, it’s very misguided.
Reda closes her post with an appeal to Europeans broadly:
Many representatives are worried about the competitiveness of European companies. Explain to them that liability for linking brings incalculable risks with it for the European IT-industry and threatens to nip innovation in the bud.