'Link Tax' Copyright Directive Passes Final Hurdle

There's a sombre feeling in the digital marketing press today as it becomes clear that the EU has followed through on its Copyright Directive. It seemed a forlorn hope that it might change its mind after the Brussels parliament voted through the controversial directive, and so it has proven.

Yesterday, the European Council voted in favour of the Copyright Directive, and it will now become law. The last possibility of common sense breaking out has gone. The UK voted in favour of the law, according to the BBC, which points out that Poland was a strong opponent -- as was Italy, Finland, Luxembourg, Sweden and The Netherlands. There were three abstentions, and so there was not enough opposition in the end to stop it from going through.

Much has been written about Article 13, which forbids platforms from hosting copyrighted material without the owner's permission. However, to be fair to the EU, there is a provision in there that a site can stay within the law if it takes down material "quickly" once it has been informed. As usual, there is no definition of "quickly." 

It has been seen as a nightmare for the tech giants, particularly YouTube. How can it possibly know whether the millions of minutes that go up on its site each day are infringing copyright? How can it possibly prevent such footage from going up in the first place? The answer is, I suspect, that it can't and it will only be judged on its record of taking down illegal material, not on preventing it from appearing in the first place. 

It will be a mammoth, unwelcome task, but if it does what is asked of it, it is potentially possible.

The real sticking point with the new law is the so-called "link tax." This just seems ridiculous. The EU is essentially saying that if you link to someone else's content and take a chunk out of it, you owe them a fee for the right. 

It sounds plausible for the ill-informed, but when you think that this is exactly how Google and other search engines work, it becomes clear that the EU has thrown a real spanner in the works, and all to prove a point on copyright.

In the main, publishers and companies want to be noticed, and they absolutely want a line or two of their content to be ripped out and placed high up on a search page with a lovely link the public can click on to see the original content and be shown advertising as they do so. It's how the internet works.

The Google News feature is under particular threat here. It was closed down in Spain for a time over a similar copyright issue and the press then begged, successfully, for it be reinstated.

The only way forward, one can assume, is for Google to ask publishers to sign some kind of waiver or be kept out of search results which, for many, could be a disaster.

So while everyone is upset for YouTube, I'd say my sympathy lies far more with its parent company, which certainly makes money from other people's content, but it also makes sense of the internet while sending eyeballs to the originator of the line or two of content it displays. 

It's a dark day for the internet in the EU, and one can only hope it delivers on its promise of protecting copyright holders while being flexible enough to allow publishers and other companies to waive their right to a link tax and carry on enjoying free traffic. 

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