EU’s Disruptive ‘Copyright Reform’ Moves Closer To Passage

The GDPR is now in effect, and on its heels is the proposed EU copyright reform for US technology companies.  The pending legislation would take the disastrous “link tax” approach applied in Germany and Spain across the whole of Europe.

The idea behind this legislation is to harmonize copyright laws across Europe.  The European Commission wants to fix the fragmented set of laws and enforcement rules in order to create a single digital market.

Although fixing the tangle that is copyright laws, the way it is playing out may not really be good in the end.  a member of the European Parliament, Julia Reda, has warned of, on more than one occasion, of the consequences of the pending legislation as

attack on the hyperlink.”

According to Reda the law has two major problems:

  • Link tax: The law would require permission and potentially licensing fees to embed links in a piece of digital content, unless there’s a copyright exception. Europe does not really have a formal fair use doctrine. This essentially operates as a “link tax.”
  • Aggressive copyright takedown rules: Platforms would be liable for infringements by users, with some exceptions. Accordingly, content sites (e.g., music and video) would likely be compelled to proactively scan uploaded content before publishing to make sure it didn’t violate copyright rules — resulting in potential censorship.

European governments issued guidelines earlier this year that requires “illegal content” to be removed within an hour.  While that was “terrorist content, incitement to hatred and violence, child sexual abuse material and counterfeit products,” it also extended to copyright infringement.

There seems to be several forms of motivation that is playing out.

  1. One is to create a uniform set of copyright laws across Europe.
  2. Traditional media publishers are looking for what may be described as a subsidy from the likes of Facebook and Google, among others, who are indexing links and snippets from news stories.

The EU wants a “level playing field” between big internet companies and traditional publishers.  Publishers and their agents are lobbying for these copyright changes and claim it’s about basic fairness.

If this law passes, Google will probably end up having to pay whenever is shows even snippets of copyrighted content or News or search results.  The problem with this law is this – similar laws found in both Germany and Spain didn’t result in the expected benefits for traditional publishers.  In the end, it ended up causing damage to users and publisher interests.

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