For these large publishers, it was always about undermining our Right to Link
There’s no shortage of proof that publishing lobbyists and their political allies want a world where you can own a hyperlink.
All over the world, media publishing giants are lobbying to restrict linking on the Internet.
That’s why we launched our ‘Save the Link’ campaign. We made it explicit from the start that we knew what was at stake: the fundamental building blocks of the web. The key to making it all function. The genius invention of Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink.
Together we’ve achieved so much to stop proposals to restrict hyperlinks. In fact, we’ve been so successful that now lobbyists have started to pretend that was never what they wanted in the first place. At various points in the debate on copyright reform we’ve heard this sad cry from the establishment: “It’s not about links”.
But there’s no shortage of proof that publishing lobbyists and their political allies want a world where you can own a hyperlink:
In France, two MPs proposed changes last year to a national law which would prohibit the use of most hyperlinks without authorisation. Their justification was to “protect the creation of authors and define the scope of their rights on hyperlinks … The amendment aims at reinstating protection on these hyperlinks, in favour of the authors and rights holders of the links’ target content.”
In other words, they want to give authors ownership over hyperlinks, and they were going to do this via copyright. Meaning that we’d have to worry about whether or not it was even legal just to link to another page and share knowledge on the web. Thankfully, this extreme proposal, lobbied for by publishers, didn’t go through because they were told to wait and see what happens in the EU law, the one we’re working on now.
The main part of our work to Save the Link has focused on the EU copyright reform process - where we’ve fought against the Link Tax, a reckless idea being pushed by the European Commission with the backing of some large EU publishing giants.
Also known as “ancillary copyright”, the Link Tax would mean that instead of being a public resource, like a road sign or a phone book, each hyperlink would become a little piece of copyrighted material, with publishing giants aiming to collect money for each of these blue URLs and their accompanying short snippets wherever they are used.
It already exists in both Spain and Germany to limit how others can link to news websites. All the existing research says that these proposals have been a disaster wherever they were enacted, and proved totally unworkable. In Spain publishers lost millions, and in Germany they were mired in court cases achieving nothing.
Links routinely include snippets. In fact some of them automatically add the snippets as soon as you click ‘post’. Restricting snippets also restricts linking — it’s still a Link Tax.
Inside the EU, at meetings and events I have heard publishing lobbyists try to claim that their proposed restrictions are “not about links” because they don’t want to be seen to be harming this core part of the web.
But when asked the question “well how will you use this new copyright”, the example they always give is about how people can see links without clicking on them.
To illustrate this contradiction, in a recent statement the European Publishers Council said
“47% of readers who read publishers' content do not click on the links they find on search or social media back to the publishers' own sites. They stay there and read only the headlines and snippets.”
But only a few sentences later they still make the dubious claim that their proposals “will have no impact on the freedom of the internet, in particular, on linking.”
It’s a very strange tautology to insist that you deserve a copyright over linking and the snippets that come with hyperlinks, but at the same time insist that it will have “no effect” on linking. If it will have no effect then why do you want it?
The single academic that publishers seem able to wheel out to back them up is Dr. Thomas Höppner, whose professional affiliation is as legal counsel to BDZV and VDZ (German Publisher Associations). In his recent report he mentions again these stats of “unclicked links” in a paragraph that contains almost identical content to that of the publishers association's’ website.
But do they seriously expect readers to click on Every Single Link they see?
Notice how above they mention “search and social media” as places where people not clicking on links as a problem. Does Twitter owe the publishers for the links not clicked on? I can hardly click on every link I see in their infinite scroll of information. I’d never stop clicking!
I also publish my own writing from time to time, does Twitter owe me for all the times people have chosen not to read what I write when I share it? No, that’s on my marketing, not on Twitter.
It’s more like browsing at a bookshop, not every book can be read, and the blurbs are there to help us make the choice.
One of the arguments that has been made about why large news publishers supposedly need this right is that it will “give them [news publishers] the ability to enforce against infringements and thereby encourage investment and innovation in the sector." (from website devoted to advocating for this copyright)
So Therese Comodini Cachia MEP, the key spokesperson and lead on copyright in the EU Parliament called the publishers’ bluff. In her proposed version of the EU copyright law she gave publishers greater power to sue anyone who engages in wholesale copying of the news sites works to do this enforcement, instead of copyright over snippets of text that go with link-sharing.
Funnily enough the publishers came out spitting fire against the idea.
Clearly, Comodini Cachia know what’s up. She says that it is “linking or referencing systems (such as hyperlinks) that facilitate the finding by users of online news portals” and she isn’t putting forward a proposal that would harm that.
At OpenMedia, we’re going to keep working against attempts by publishing lobbyists to undermine the link, the basic building block of the Web we love. If you’ve yet to do so, don’t forget to speak up by sending a message to your MEP at https://act1.openmedia.org/savethelink