EU to vote on copyright laws, what does this mean for online publications?

By Rudi Davis Published: 3 October, 2017 Last updated: February 18th, 2022 at 10:04 am

reform copyright image

New EU laws are due to go to a vote October 10, which will change the way copyright is defined and could be a game changer for online publications and advertisers.

The legislation will set up what’s called “neighbouring rights” for publishers to own content in parallel with authorial ownership, essentially giving more ownership of content to publishers who will be better placed to be remunerated for reuse of their content.

Ostensibly, there are four key reasons for the current proposals which Journalism identified as “providing an incentive for the commercial production of news; making news publishers equal in the eyes of EU copyright law; restraining re-distributors of published news, who are ‘free riding;’ and protecting commercial news publishers’ rights to the news they produce and publish.”

Why the sudden change to copyright law?

European lawmakers are introducing the bill in an attempt to redress the balance between online content and online advertisers, shifting leverage towards the content producers who will then be able to charge advertisers adequate fees and better fuel news and journalism. Or so the thinking goes, although similar laws have been in place since 2013 in Germany and Spain with checkered results.

“What happened was that nobody actually started paying for putting these links on their services but instead just stopped linking, so either shortening the snippets to the minimum of what was allowed or just not linking to publishers who were using the neighbouring right altogether,” MEP Julia Reda told Journalism.

“Google limited the snippets that it showed to the minimum and the result was that the publishers who were exercising this neighbouring right ended up getting a lot less traffic, and so they gave Google a free licence to use their content after all – but of course nobody else got a free licence.”

Issues with the new legislation

The laws are seen as particularly controversial by many concerned parties, who point to failures in Germany coupled with concerns that it will allow content producers to charge companies like Facebook and Google every time a user posts a link. If concerns like these become a reality the laws will, say skeptics, be tantamount to strangling freedom of speech.

“It’s protecting the investment of the publisher in the brands and in the business and in the product that they make available to the public,” said Angela Mills Wade, director of the European Publishers Council, who was responding to those calling the legislation a “link tax.”

“There is nothing in the proposal that would say that individual readers can’t post links to Facebook, Twitter or wherever. What we do object to is the systematic scraping of content by large organisations for their own commercial gain. It’s trying to press the reset button and say it is not acceptable for commercial organisations to go around helping themselves to publishers’ content,” she said.

As the discussion unfolds the most outspoken critic has been Raegan MacDonald, Mozilla’s Senior EU Policy Manager, who has embarked on a campaign coupled with some strong, if hyperbolic, remarks about the policy’s potential impact.

The bottom line

If the legislation is voted-in, it’s very difficult to work out how it will change the online news media. It is at least comforting to know that attempts are being made at the highest level to save the news and journalism.

With more and more publications running into financial difficulties it must be observed that the current situation is highly inopportune, and something fundamental is going to have to change.