Article 11 of the proposed EU copyright reform/expansion
Anyone using snippets of journalistic online content must first get a license from the publisher. This new right for publishers would apply for 20 years after publication.
The automatic link previews social networks generate when users share links (showing the article headline, a thumbnail picture and a short excerpt) would require a license, as well as anyone analysing news content on the web like news aggregators, media monitoring services and fact checking services.
The Commission wants to generate income for European publishers by allowing them to charge internet platforms for displaying snippets of their content to users. Stated targets are Google, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, who use such snippets in the course of linking to news articles.
- Likely to fail: This is an attempt to replicate at an EU level an idea that already failed badly in Germany and Spain – only applied more broadly and longer. The German law is likely about to be pronounced invalid in court, while the Spanish one “clearly had a negative impact on visibility and access to information in Spain” (EPRS). Journalists certainly never saw additional remuneration.
- Attack on the hyperlink: Because readers need to know what a link leads to before clicking, sites almost always include a snippet of the linked-to content as part of a link. Any limitation on snippets is therefore a limitation on linking.
- Limiting freedom of expression and access to information: This provision would restrict not just businesses, but also individuals who publish news snippets, e.g. bloggers. Because a neighbouring right, unlike a copyright, doesn’t require originality to apply to content, it would protect even short and uncreative snippets, such as purely factual headlines.
- Boosting fake news: Making it legally risky or expensive to link (with snippets) to news risks disincentivising the sharing of reputable news content. Since “fake news” and propaganda outlets are unlikely to charge for snippets, their content could as a result become more visible on social networks.
- News-related startups discouraged, even though this sector is in particular need of innovation and experimentation to find new business models, ways of reaching audiences, fact-checking and combating fake news etc., as technology advances.
- Small publishers disadvantaged: Aggregators create a level playing field for independent publishers with less brand recognition to reach audiences.
The Commission and news industry lobbies have repeatedly claimed that “individuals and hyperlinks wouldn’t be affected”, a claim unsupported by the text of the proposal:
- Links routinely include snippets, so restricting snippets restricts linking.
- While copyright exceptions would continue to apply, in many EU member states (e.g. Germany), individuals sharing news snippets without additional commentary or context are not already covered by exceptions such as the one for quotation.
- Platforms like social networks would need to deny individuals the sharing of links including unlicensed snippets, impacting directly what internet users can/can’t do.
The industry paints this as “only getting what publishers of other kinds of works already have”, e.g. music publishers. This argument neglects a major difference: While the contribution of a music publisher in turning a song composed on paper into a concrete recording is self-evident, an article as written by a journalist and its publication on a news site are hardly distinguishable, thus not requiring duplicate layers of rights.
Independent academics unanimously criticise the proposal:
- “There is independent scientific consensus that Article 11 […] cannot be allowed to stand.” –Leading European centres researching IP and innovation law
- “Unnecessary, undesirable, would introduce an unacceptable level of uncertainty and be unlikely to achieve anything” –37 IP professors and scholars
- “An interference with freedom of speech”, “may well set back the function of the press as public watchdog” –Prof van Eechoud
- “Contrary to the objective of creating a Single Digital Market”, “detrimental for authors’ interests”, “a negative impact on small publishers”, “risks having undesired repercussions for the acceptability and legitimacy of the copyright system as a whole” –Uni Strasbourg
- ”Will not foster quality journalism”, ”adversely affects authors economically”, ”directly affects the online communication of the European population”, ”will not create additional revenues for press publishers” –Prof Peukert
- “will ultimately privilege large incumbent (US-based) online news providers, such as Google”, “Small (European) entities and startups will be prevented from entering this emerging market” –European Copyright Society
- ”The final result … may … be further market concentration and less information diversity.” –Prof Senftleben
The #SaveTheLink campaign run by the NGO OpenMedia collected over 12,000 responses for the Commission’s consultation on the topic and is supported by over 120,000 people online.
- The (leading) Legal Affairs Committee proposes major changes: The draft report by rapporteur MEP Comodini (EPP) rejects the Commission’s premise and clarifies that using snippets to make news discoverable is not necessarily harmful to publishers’ financial interests, and thus shouldn’t be subject to licensing. The report seeks to fundamentally change the proposal: Rather than creating a new right for publishers, it instead facilitates them enforcing the copyright of the content they’ve published in court in cases of infringement.
- The ALDE group shadow rapporteur is in favour of the Commission proposal, while S&D and Greens/EFA shadow rapporteurs have argued for its removal.
- The Internal Market Committee (MEP Stihler’s draft report) seeks to delete the provision, while the Culture Committee (MEP Joulaud’s draft report) seeks to limit the right to business-to-business relations and shorten its duration to 3 years.
Previously, the EP voted against adding this idea to the Reda Report in 2015, 83 MEPs asked the Commission to drop the plan in an open letter, and MEPs from all political groups recently joined Julia Reda’s video campaign against it.
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