What is “link tax”? And, are “censorship machines” a thing?

legislation fake news

Worried about “link tax” and “censorship machines”? Don’t be. Here’s why…

Yesterday, over 400 European lawmakers passed new legislation which addresses copyright online. The controversial new laws have been referenced as Article 11 and Article 13 and they’ve already caused quite a stir.

However, over 200 lawmakers at the European Parliament voted against the proposals and there is yet to be a final vote in January following three-way negotiations between Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the European Union. So nothing is set in stone, yet.

 

Why has Article 11 and Article 13 caused such a ruckus?

In a sentence, the laws are devoid of any clarity.

Without clarity they’re open to being perceived differently by different people. For example, the term “link” hasn’t been defined, nor is it clear whether it’ll be a blanket legislation or only to be applied to the big guns of the internet (i.e. Google + Facebook). News is quickly spreading about “detrimental consequences for the internet”, digital marketers fear for their jobs and there is a rise of #SaveYourInternet and #DeleteArt13 hashtags, all based upon pessimistic assumptions. The optimal word here being “assumptions”.

Truth is, nobody truly knows exactly how it will effect the way we share news and content.

What we attempt to do is demystify the hype and plainly share what we know.

 

What exactly is Article 11?

This proposal grants news publishers copyright over headlines and news snippets, which means aggregation platforms like Google News will need to pay media companies what is being called a “link tax” in order to share articles. It also extends to internet users, meaning to link to a news article the service they’re using must have bought a “linking license” from the news-source they’re linking to. News aggregator sites like TechMeme.com will fall under this category.

 

And, what is Article 13?

The EU Copyright Directive dictates that all content uploaded to the internet be monitored and potentially deleted if a likeness to existing copyrighted content is detected.

To that effect, Article 13 requires platforms reliant on user-generated content, i.e. YouTube and Reddit (content aggregators), to implement an automated filtering system that would scan uploads for intellectual-property violations before they occur.

 

Why are these proposals even being considered?

Copyright is very difficult to police online and in recent years concerns for copyright have regularly hit the headlines. We can only assume that this sudden intention to protect online copyright has formulated from the obvious fact that tech giants like Facebook reap all the benefits. There is a concern among content creators that companies like this profit from their efforts since users opt to troll their search engines and social platforms for content rather than use the original sources. All the while, tech giants learn more and more about each individual user, stealing data from the original source along with organic traffic, time spent on a page and CTR. From a digital marketing perspective they’re severely affecting page and ad ranks.

Additionally, Google are advancing the SERPs and continue to add more schema markups meaning users are finding solutions from Google’s results alone. However, on the flip side schema markups are also an additional benefit for search engine optimised sites.

There are definitely two sides to this story.

both sides to article 11 and article 13

The internet is an online hub for sharing, be it music, photography, illustrations, portfolios – even personal experiences. But its business model, unlike a traditional business, means it’s difficult to enforce the rights of the content creators (those who hold the IP) to their own work.

Which sounds great for creators; the government are taking a stand on their behalf and are creating a fairer environment ensuring lucrative transacting, essentially giving back the power to content creators.

BUT

There is a dark side that needs to be addressed. With the limitations being applied to articles and creative content there is a possibility that it could fundamentally limit internet users content consumption. It seems we could be inviting a big drop in web traffic for publishers and creatives who rely on visibility for awareness. Also, in an era of fake news anything that limits access to reliable news sources is surely a bad thing.

There’s also an argument that “censorship machines” pose the probability of over-censoring and are open to abuse. Since there have been no reference to penalties for falsely claiming copyright in order to censor work, anyone will be able to censor anything.

Whilst these articles are (rightly) causing some uproar, I do feel that more needs to be done to protect copyright. YouTubers and sites are profiting off other people’s work and I’ve wondered how in a wider picture, this is leading us to devalue original content. We know from other EU rulings and laws such as GDPR and the Google Shopping case that it is highly likely Google and Facebook will appeal and find other work arounds.

Paul Hunter, Liberty’s Marketing Manager.

And EDiMA (the European trade association representing technology companies, including Google, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter) agrees, “EDIMA believes the continued success of the creative and technology sectors depends on a legal framework that incentivises creativity, investment and innovation.” but they go on to say, “While we welcome the initiative from the European institutions to reform the EU’s copyright framework, we regret that the Commission’s proposed Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (DSM) misses the opportunity to put the EU forward as a global leader for innovation and the creative industries.”

Ouch.

 

What will happen if the law is passed?

We don’t know yet how the law will shake out. Nobody knows.

But what we do know, is that in 2014 Spain passed a legislation similar to Article 11 – whereby Google had to pay news publishers for aggregating links – and the law backfired when the tech giant turned it’s back on Google News in Spain, causing the demise of some Spanish news publishers.

You’re right, that doesn’t sound good. However, it has been said that Europe will have greater negotiating power with Google.

Liberty’s Head of Creative Content, Philip Woodward has said,

The rise of big tech aggregators like Google and Facebook have been brilliant for brand-focused content creators (like us) in the last decade. However, traditional, unbiased journalistic models, which rely on advertising or subscriptions for its revenue, haven’t had so much fun with it. Facebook and Google’s revenue have grown 698% and 118% in the last five years (just future-proofing those links by putting them in one word BTW), while global newspaper revenue has dropped 13% since 2007.

It’s this growing dichotomy which, alongside other things, has led to the proliferation of fake news, echo chambers, Brexit and Trump. And I think that’s what this (or at least Article 11) tries to address.

Will the legislation change the way we do digital campaigns? Almost certainly. Should we keep an eye on developments in Brussels? Of course. Should we be worried? No, I don’t think so. If anything, it strengthens brands who commit to original, authentic content.

And while the bill as it’s currently proposed could well affect traditional journalism’s relationship with tech aggregators, branded journalism (which relies on aggregators for visibility rather than revenue) should find it a little less problematic to dance with the devil.

 

Still concerned and want to share your opinion? There are sites allowing you to do just that. Head to:

  1. savethelink.org/me (Article 11)
  2. saveyourinternet.eu (Article 13)

To voice your concerns to those who matter.