Wangaratta Chronicle - North East Regional Extra - - Front Page - WITH CHRIS

IF Kim Kar­dashian’s back­side wasn’t enough to break the internet, the EU’s Copy­right Di­rec­tive might just do the trick - only this time it might just stay bro­ken.

Un­der new pro­pos­als, to be voted on by mem­bers of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment on June 21, search engines like Google and so­cial me­dia sites like Face­book and Twit­ter will be forced to pay a con­tro­ver­sial ‘link tax’ to news me­dia sites op­er­at­ing within EU mem­ber na­tions.

Ad­di­tion­ally, a man­date would re­quire internet so­cial ser­vice providers to mon­i­tor user up­loaded con­tent for any copy­right in­fring­ing ma­te­rial and block said con­tent from be­ing up­loaded at all, as well as hold those sites di­rectly li­able for any copy­right in­fringe­ments.

The Copy­right Di­rec­tive - and ar­ti­cles 11 and 13 specif­i­cally - are a bid to dras­ti­cally re­vert pro­tec­tions to con­tent cre­ators and or­gan­i­sa­tions to some­thing re­sem­bling the pre-internet era.

Of course, the pro­tec­tion of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty is ex­tremely im­por­tant - and fair re­mu­ner­a­tion for orig­i­na­tor of con­tent equally so - but some­body re­ally should have told the EU that the cat is well and truly out of the bag now, and try­ing to stuff it back in is only go­ing to re­sult in a very an­gry cat, se­vere lac­er­a­tions, and crip­pling tetanus.

Among the more wor­ri­some as­pects of these pro­pos­als is that the link tax would be an in­alien­able right, mean­ing that me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions would be forced to col­lect the fee, whether they want to or not.

This could be hugely detri­men­tal to small, in­de­pen­dent me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions who rely on Google and other search engines to drive traf­fic to their web­sites.

If Google would be forced to pay these small or­gan­i­sa­tions a fee to list their ar­ti­cles in it’s search re­sults, then the likely out­come would be that Google sim­ply won’t list them - at all.

But given the fact that the lob­by­ing of these pro­pos­als has pri­mar­ily come from large, Euro­pean main­stream me­dia con­glom­er­ates, that is prob­a­bly the point of the ex­er­cise - to de­stroy small com­peti­tors.

The sec­ond trou­bling as­pect of this is that con­tent fil­ter­ing al­most cer­tainly can’t be con­tained to EU na­tions alone, and would be rolled out glob­ally - af­fect­ing coun­tries, or­gan­i­sa­tions, and in­di­vid­u­als who have no rep­re­sen­ta­tives in the EU, and the pro­posal ig­nores fair use and trans­for­ma­tive clauses ex­tant in cur­rent copy­right leg­is­la­tion.

In prac­tice this means that the funny cat meme you want to up- load to In­sta­gram could well be blocked by the site’s heavy handed al­go­rithm, as a com­puter ( un­sur­pris­ingly) isn’t great at sub­jec­tive ideas like ‘par­ody’.

All the al­go­rithm would see is a con­fig­u­ra­tion of pix­els pre­de­ter­mined to be some­one else’s in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

But who could blame In­sta­gram for im­pos­ing such catch-all mea­sures given the risks to their busi­ness un­der this new di­rec­tive?

It’s un­clear why this un­work­able pro­posal wasn’t aban­doned long ago.

A sim­i­lar link tax was rolled out in Spain which re­sulted in Google News clos­ing shop in the coun­try, an equiv­a­lent scheme in Ger­many has also been deemed a woe­ful fail­ure, and both small pub­lish­ers and even a Euro­pean Com­mi­sion funded study have slammed the pro­posal.

The sum­marised con­clu­sions of the study found that:

The review of aca­demic lit­er­a­ture on the topic found that there is “nearly univer­sal crit­i­cism” of the pro­posal for a new neigh­bour­ing right.

The study finds "lit­tle ev­i­dence that de­clin­ing news­pa­per rev­enues have any­thing do with the ac­tiv­i­ties of news ag­gre­ga­tors or search engines”, who the new law in­tends to tar­get. The new right may end up stronger than con­ven­tional copy­right, rais­ing “ob­jec­tions… re­lat­ing to free­dom of ex­pres­sion”.

Link­ing will be neg­a­tively af­fected by the pro­posal: “It seems clear that some hy­per­link­ing will be im­pli­cated”.

Even if the new right does lead to ex­tra rev­enues for pub­lish­ers, “they will be a drop in the ocean” – at the cost of pos­ing “a threat to the na­ture of news com­mu­ni­ca­tion” as well as “to in­no­va­tion and new en­try”.

The study's au­thors reach the con­clu­sion that the ex­tra copy­right for news sites is in­ca­pable of achiev­ing the Com­mis­sion’s stated goal of pro­mot­ing me­dia plu­ral­ism and is an ill-fit­ted and dis­pro­por­tion­ate tool for fa­cil­i­tat­ing the li­cens­ing and en­force­ment of rights by pub­lish­ers.

As one un­named Ger­man edi­tor-in-chief in­ter­viewed in the study suc­cinctly put it,

“If one is of the opin­ion that Google has a mo­nop­oly, then this should be tack­led via the rel­e­vant ex­ist­ing laws.

“To ar­gue that one must change the ar­chi­tec­ture of the Internet to tackle this is like say­ing that we drain the sea to fight pi­rates.

“Over­all, the in­ter­est of the so­ci­ety are more im­por­tant than the in­ter­ests of the pub­lish­ers”.

COPY­RIGHT: Un­der pro­posed new di­rec­tives, post­ing memes on­line could con­sti­tute a breach of copy­right, and blog­gers could be smacked with a ‘link tax’ if they re­fer to sources.

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