Now that GDPR is the law in the European Union, lawmakers have their sights on copyright reform, which could have significant impact on the way websites work.
They want to bring digital copyright laws across Europe into a unified code. According to the proposed legislation, it “provides for measures aiming at improving the position of rightholders to negotiate and be remunerated for the exploitation of their content by online services giving access to user-uploaded content.”
Proponents say that means a “link tax.” The law would require publishers to get permission to embed links, and also to negotiate potential licensing fees. In the U.S., there is a fair use doctrine that allows brief excerpts of copyright material to be quoted for specific purposes, including news reporting, criticism, and research without getting prior approval from the copyright holder. That concept of fair use does not exist in E.U. laws.
This pending legislation would negate any fair use argument and require permission and possibly payment to use excerpts, embed, or link to copyright material.
“A fair sharing of value is also necessary to ensure the sustainability of the press publications sector,” the proposal says. “Press publishers are facing difficulties in licensing their publications online and obtaining a fair share of the value they generate. This could ultimately affect citizens’ access to information. This proposal provides for a new right for press publishers aiming at facilitating online licensing of their publications, the recoupment of their investment and the enforcement of their rights.”
Opponents say it goes too far. Julia Reda is a member of the EU Parliament and opponent of the law. “In stark contrast to the GDPR, experts near-unanimously agree that the copyright reform law, as it stands now, is really bad,” Reda said on her website. She says if the law is passed, we can expect draw-out court cases and years of legal disputes around whether hyperlinks can be used and under what terms.
Detecting Copyright Violations
She also says it could force internet platforms to monitor all user uploads to detect copyright infringement. Because of the sheer volume, that would necessitate automated filters. “That will necessarily lead to takedown of totally legal acts of expression,” she said. In addition, web services can’t avoid liability even by implementing the filters.
“To protect themselves from being sued, they would need to get licenses from all rightsholders that exist on the planet before allowing user uploads to go online, just in case the upload may contain (parts of) any of their works,” Reda said.
Impact of Similar Laws in Spain and Germany
An analysis by Search Engine Land shows how broad the impact could be: “If the law as proposed passes, Google would likely be required to pay whenever it shows even snippets of copyrighted content in News or search results,” Greg Sterling wrote. “But similar laws in Spain and Germany did not result in the anticipated benefits for traditional news publishers — and caused damage to both users and publisher interests.”
By the way, the quotes and links included in this story might very well be illegal in the E.U. under the proposed law.