MEP Voss presents the most extreme proposal for a link tax (so far) 28/03/2018 by Tom Hirche
We have called the publisher's right as proposed by the EU Commission in September 2016 an "ancillary copyright on steroids" – for good reasons! Now MEP Axel Voss has published his proposal for the European Parliament's position which is so extreme and destructive, not even the Incredible Hulk would dare to pick a fight.
Extension of the new right
Executives of press agencies will read the proposal with a big smile on their faces as their lobbying work has finally paid off: MEP Axel Voss wants to add them to the beneficiaries of the link tax. This is despite the fact that in their open letter the press agencies have made it clear that to them even the mere hyperlink will undoubtedly be covered by the new right – a case of intentionally breaking the internet.
The extension does not stop here. Additionally, the scope of the publisher's right shall be widened by incorporating more exclusive rights, i. e. rental and lending rights as well as the right for the distribution of press products. These extensions would inter alia drag libraries into the scope. Libraries lend or rent content to their users. The publisher right would add another layer of rights that they had to clear and pay remunerations for when they want to use press publications. It comes with no surprise that an explanation for the necessity of this stretch is nowhere to be found. The reason why the link tax in Germany has been a complete failure was not that press publishers were given too few rights.
An inalienable right to remuneration will cause severe damage
Besides extending the scope of the new right which would have to be licenced, MEP Voss also added an inalienable right to remuneration to the text. In case of doubt, this levy would have to be negotiated with and paid to collecting societies. Not only is this combination of a bunch of exclusive rights with a remuneration right absurd, it will also have dramatic consequences. Even if a press publisher (or a press agency) is convinced that links to its articles eventually help its business, it still has to demand a payment for that. There will be no other choice.
It is not hard to predict what will happen next: news aggregators will shut down; search engine providers and social media platforms will delist or not allow links to news articles anymore. Maybe the large press media outlets will be spared from this adaptation, but smaller publishers will definitely suffer from this act of excessive paternalism as they will struggle to reach the public and attract readers.
This is not a vague guess but a simple repetition of what has already happened in Spain right after an inalienable link tax was introduced. Google News and other news aggregators were shut down and smaller publishers consequently experienced a harsh drop in the number of their readers. As a result, the Spanish Association of Daily Newspaper Publishers (AEDE) that had lobbied for this law demanded the national and EU authorities to step in and force Google to re-open its news aggregation service – without success.
Also, an inalienable right to remuneration causes fundamental conflicts with public licence models like Creative Commons. Against the basic idea of the "open" philosophie in Open Access, Open Content or Open Educational Resources (among others), every publisher of news will be legally forced to claim remuneration for the reuse of their content. MEP Julia Reda points out in her blog post that
"[s]uccessful innovative news companies such as eldiario, whose business model is completely based on Creative Commons, would take a hit, all in the name of 'supporting quality journalism'."
Theoretical participation in revenue
In an attempt to not only win other MEPs' approval but also of the International and the European Federation of Journalists, MEP Voss added some text to "ensure that authors [...] receive an appropriate share of the additional revenues press publishers receive". However, their share is limited to the money press publishers receive from internet service providers, i. e. search engine providers, news aggregators and social media platforms. The German publisher's right already has such a provision but over the last four and a half years since its introduction, the authors did not receive a single Euro until this day. This is due to various still ongoing legal trials that have cost the publishers millions while at the same time they were hardly making any money off their new right. In combination with the proposal for an Art. 12, according to which authors shall in the future have to share their levies with the publishers, the authors will end up with less in their pockets after the copyright reform than they had before.
Contact your MEP!
If you are asking yourself what you can do about his (and even if not), simply go to OpenMedia's Save the Link website and use their e-mail form to write your MEP to stand up against the link tax. You can also write your own text and add a few words why MEP Axel Voss' proposal will be extremely harmful and should thus be rejected. In case you prefer to directly call your MEP, you can use another Save the Link website that will help you with that.This work is distributed under the Creative Commons BY 4.0 Licence.
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