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Save the Link: What we said to the European Commission

Wow! Over 37,500 of you joined us in saying a resounding NO! to the European Commission's Link Tax plan

For the last few weeks we’ve been asking you to respond to a crucial European Commission consultation on proposals that threaten our ability to freely and easily share online content.
Now that the questionnaire is closed, and your voices submitted, we’d like to reflect on why this was so important, and what we said to the Commission.

This EU consultation focused on just 2 issues:

  • Ancillary Copyright (aka the Link Tax)

  • Freedom of Panorama (the ability to share photos of public buildings online)

These are two huge issues that campaign groups across the world have drawn attention to ahead of the EU’s big new copyright revision process. The fact that the Commission ran a survey so focused on these two specific issues shows that these campaigns are working.

The reason that groups like Wikimedia, businesses like Thunderclap, and groups like EDRi joined with us to encourage your response to this questionnaire is that this new law has the potential to make huge changes to the way the Internet works.

The link tax, idea number one, proposes creating a new form of copyright: giving publishers ownership of links (and their little accompanying snippets of text) and making search engines and other sites that use them pay for the ability to link to news and other kinds of content.

It will kill the hyperlink as we know it.

This was the final consultation on these issues before the draft law is written and that’s why it was vital to ensure that, after stirring up their attention on this issue, we didn’t let the lobbyists be the loudest voice.

We asked for you to sign on in support of our statement on these two questions:

  • Would the creation of new neighbouring right covering publishers in all sectors have an impact on consumers/end-users/EU citizens?  (question 13)

  • Would the creation of new neighbouring right limited to press publishers have an impact on consumers/end-users/EU citizens?  (question 14)

And Internet users from across the globe responded to our call!

In total we had 9,937 responses from the European Union, along with 27,660 from the rest of the world. We provided a full breakdown of these statistics to the European Commission, as part of the official submission we sent them today (and which you can now read in full right here).

You might notice that these two questions posed are pretty similar to one another, in fact the Commission’s questionnaire, whilst being more accessible than previous consultations, was still remarkably obtuse. Take a look at some other sample questions:

  • Would the creation of a neighbouring right limited to the press publishers have an impact on rightholders other than authors in the publishing sector?

  • Would the creation of a neighbouring right limited to press publishers have an impact on researchers and educational or research institutions?

It felt like an optician continuing to try out a bunch of lenses to ask if you can read a blank piece of paper in front of you —  “Do you see it now?” “And how about now?”

But every time, we still don’t see how ancillary copyright is a good idea.

Extended metaphors aside, with the help of the Save the Link network we answered every question in the Commission’s consultation on ancillary copyright. We shared our supporters’ responses to questions 13 and 14 and explained that, whatever the circumstances, ‘a neighbouring right’ (a phrase which means here ‘the original ancillary copyright but with a new name to throw you off guard’) would result in a strong negative impact.

As you can see from our submission, we focused on getting across these key points:

  • The lack of a clear definition for “publishers”, “press publishers”, and “rightsholders” is highly problematic and would make the law impossible to implement.
  • Wherever these laws have been implemented they’ve caused harm, not benefit, to the publishing industry, the Internet, and the economy.

  • The ability of websites and individuals to freely link and share content benefits all publishers and search engines and users, who all act in symbiosis with one another.

  • These laws could stop people using Creative Commons, open publishing, and accessing library resources: all important ways of freely accessing knowledge.

We also directed people to the full consultation questionnaire, for those who wished to give more detailed feedback on these questions with the help of an answering guide put together by a collaboration of EU public interest groups and hosted by our friends at Copyright 4 Creativity (C4C).

Thank you to everyone who supported the campaign and stuck with us throughout this process — because we stood together, we’re clearly having a big impact on this issue! Thousands of people responded, the press have been picking it up and writing on it across the world, and our coalition standing against threats to hyperlinking now includes over 100 organizations!

As for next steps, we’re now expecting the Commission to take a number of months to review all this public input, and to decide on how it wants to proceed. And, rest assured, we’ll keep you in the loop every step of the way. (be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest)

Last but not least, you can download our full submission right here. And below is the full letter that action-takers at SaveTheLink.org/EU supported:

Dear Commissioners Oettinger and Ansip,

The creation of a new ‘neighbouring right’ limited to publishers and the creation of a new neighbouring right covering publishers in all sectors, will each have a strong negative impact on consumers, end-users, and EU citizens.

If publishers gain a neighbouring right over the links to their content it will harm many forms of information sharing. It would create an advantage for entrenched news organisations and narrowing the range of news sources available to Internet users. When the link tax passed in Spain, the loss for the news publishing industry was estimated to be €10 million a year.

A neighbouring right will make it harder for libraries to curate content. It will interfere with open access and creative commons: movements that have enabled Internet users across the world to access new knowledge.

At its heart, ancillary copyright fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between aggregators and news outlets, seeing them as parasitic. But linking is mutually beneficial to both parties, and their symbiosis ensures access to knowledge for all.

We would urge the Commission to reject any proposals for inclusion of these ancillary copyright charges in the draft copyright legislation.


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