Tech giants to fight EU ‘link tax’

Tech giants are redoubling their opposition to moves by the European Parliament to update online copyright laws, amid claims that some of the new provisions amount to a ‘link tax’ for providers like Google who republish content

The European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market has been subject to intense debate since it was first introduced for discussion to Parliament in July, with particular criticism focused on Article 11 and Article 13.

Originally MEPs opposed the new directive, but amendments to the two articles have now seen it passed by 438 votes to 226. The legislation is set to face a final vote in January 2019, but is expected to pass into law unchanged. There will then be a two year period in which individual member states (potentially including the UK depending on the exact terms of the Brexit transition deal) will transpose the directive into local legislation.

Article 11, dubbed the ‘link tax’ is intended to give publishers and newspapers a way to make money when companies like Google or other news aggregators link to their stories, allowing them to demand payment for sharing content. 

Article 13, which some call the ‘meme ban’ requires certain platforms like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook to prevent users from sharing unlicensed copyrighted material.

Technology giants including Google and Twitter have spoken out robustly against the plans, which have also been criticised on the grounds of denying free speech and uncensored comment from others, including Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the worldwide web.

In an interview with the Guardian, Richard Gingras , Google’s vice president of news, suggested the company could considering shutting down Google News in EU countries over the ‘link tax’ proposal. Gingras said it depended on the exact phrasing of the legislation, and there have been suggestions that short clips or extracts should be exempt.

Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, has also challenged the EU’s plans, saying in the last year, YouTube paid content owners across the EU €800m (£710m), and paid the global music industry more than €1.5bn (£1.3bn) from advert-generated revenue alone.

In a blog post Wojcicki  said this creator economy is under threat from Article 13  claiming ‘the European Parliament’s current proposal will create unintended consequences that will have a profound impact on the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people.’

Wojcicki argued that copyright owners often disagree over who owns what rights, meaning many platforms would simply block videos and other content rather than take on the financial risks of an unknown liability. She said requiring platforms to use so-call ‘smart’ content management technology to help rights holders manage their copyrights was a more straightforward approach.

However, the EU has signalled it intends to stick to its proposals.

Frits Bolkestein, internal market commissioner, said: ‘I am delighted that the European Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to endorse compromise amendments to the EU copyright Directive that reflect the delicate balance of interests catered for in the Council's Common Position.

‘The Parliament has been subjected to unprecedented lobbying onslaught on this Directive, and I regret that some of the parties concerned strived to obtain nothing less than total victory, using sometimes highly emotive arguments, rather than seeking a balanced compromise between the various legitimate interests involved.

‘That is not the European way to move forward we all have to be prepared to accept compromise and I congratulate the Parliament for having done so.

‘The Parliament's vote today should help to ensure the rapid adoption of this important measure to bring European copyright rules into the digital age.’

European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market is here.

Report by Pat Sweet

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