European Parliament deals major blow to Commission plans for a Link Tax, as Copyright Rapporteur recommends MEPs reject the idea
Closely-watched report recommends that plans for a Link Tax (Article 11) be removed from draft legislation, but doesn’t go far enough to address concerns about content censorship
March 8, 2017 – A closely-watched report from EU copyright rapporteur Therese Comodini Cachia MEP recommends that controversial European Commission proposals for a “Link Tax” (Article 11) be removed from draft legislation updating Europe’s copyright rules. The draft report — leaked today by Politico— also recommends amendments to the Commission’s plans for mandatory content filtering (Article 13), but leaves the door open to an implementation of the article that could lead to content censorship.
Opponents of the Link Tax have warned that it would drastically restrict citizens’ ability to access and share information freely online, and in her draft opinion, Comodini Cachia agreed. She stated that proposals for a “press publishers’ right” (aka the Link Tax) should be removed from the legislation because “wide access to these news and opinions is important for public debate in a democratic society.”
“On the whole, this is a move in the right direction, and shows that the European Parliament is listening to citizens’ concerns on the link tax,” said Ruth Coustick-Deal, digital rights specialist with OpenMedia. “Internet users will be heartened to see MEPs stand up for their rights, especially given how the Commission ignored citizen feedback in developing its plan.”
Coustick-Deal continued: “People want to be able to find the information they need online — nobody wants for links to be missing or for content to be blocked. While today’s report is a big step forward on the link tax, it doesn’t go far enough to address concerns around content censorship. It will now be up to MEPs to reject both the link tax and content filtering provisions entirely, and usher in safeguards for user-generated content that benefit every EU citizen.”
Key points from today’s leaked report from Copyright Rapporteur Therese Comodini Cachia include:
In recommending the deletion of proposed Link Tax powers in Article 11, Cachia noted that “it is these linking or referencing systems (such as hyperlinks) that facilitate the finding by users of news online portals.” — a message thousands of Internet users sent to their representatives over recent months.
Cachia also noted that “it is also important to consider that plurality of news and opinions and wide access to these news and opinions is important for public debate in a democratic society. Similarly, non-commercial sharing of such news or opinions is also important in modern democratic societies.”
Rather than a mandatory provision for content filtering Cachia acknowledges that while “implementation of agreements concluded between service providers and rightholders may be carried out through technological measures which however must be respectful of the copyright acquis in its entirety thereby not only respectful of the rights in copyright but also of the exceptions and limitations to copyright,” the liability of enforcing those rights rests with rightsholders themselves, and not with the platforms through which they are being accessed.
Today’s leaked report follows recommendations from the European Parliament’s internal market committee, that Article 11 (Link Tax) be scrapped. That committee also warned that Article 13 (content censorship) harmed the interests of Internet users. It also follows a recent independent study by the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law revealing that content filtering proposals face serious legal problems. Other academic research has reached similar conclusions.
The European Commission’s original plans for a Link Tax would have provided publishing giants with sweeping new powers to charge fees when snippets of text accompany hyperlinks. The plans — backed by then-Digital Commissioner Gunther Oettinger — sparked controversy and widespread media coverage when they were first unveiled last September, but recent media reports in Politico suggest the proposals have “hit the rocks” with MEPs.
Prior to being proposed at the EU level, the Link Tax was attempted in Spain with poor results for publishers. Two key Spanish Internet users’ associations recently presented a complaint to the Commission based on how the Spanish law damages competition and serves as a form of illegal state aid.
OpenMedia has helped rally over 128,000 people as part of the Save The Link campaign. Citizens across the EU can send a message to their MEP about the Commission’s link tax and content censorship proposals at act1.openmedia.org/SaveTheLink