Well that was quick: just two days after Commissioner Ansip delivered a non-denial denial that “this Commission does not have any plans to tax hyperlinks” Statewatch published a draft of the Commission’s own Impact assessment on the modernisation of EU copyright rules which clearly states that the Commission will indeed propose the introduction of an EU wide ancillary copyright for news publishers.
While nobody expected the EU commission to come forward with a proposal for a literal “link tax”, the “introduction in EU law of a related right covering online uses of news publications” is exactly what civil society groups like Save the Link are criticising as a link tax.
The term “link tax” is being used to point to the fact that granting news publishers’ additional rights will likely result in limitations on how Internet users and online platforms can interact with news content that has been published online. Over the last few years Spain and Germany have both introduced ancillary copyrights for press publishers, with the explicit purpose of allowing publishers to charge aggregation platforms and search engines for providing links to their content. Even though both attempts have failed in achieving this objective (something that the Commission concedes in the impact assessment), the publishers have clearly managed to convince the Commission that they should be granted a german-style ancillary copyright on the EU level.
As we outlined in our submission to the Commission’s consultation on this topic, granting more rights to publishers is the wrong way to address the challenges faced by (some parts) of the publishing sector, and will have negative consequences for educators, cultural heritage institution, Internet users, and creators alike.
Unfortunately, the Commission’s impact assessment ignores most of these concerns. In a striking violation of the Commission’s own better regulation strategy, which stresses the need for transparency and evidence-based policymaking, the Commission is building its argument in favor of the new right by cherry-picking from the responses to the public consultation on a neighbouring right for publishers. The impact assessment is filled with vague summaries of the views stakeholders have expressed in responses to the consultation, but there is no possibility to compare these responses to the actual data. As we have pointed out before, there are indications that there is very little support for the introduction of new rights for publishers from stakeholders other than publishers.
Withholding the full responses to the consultation the Commission shows a worrying amount of disregard to all stakeholders who have submitted responses to the contribution. This behaviour confirms our assessment that the introduction of a related right covering online uses of news publications is not based on evidence but mainly on the lobby power of publishers and the political will of Commissioner Oettinger who has made it clear from the start that he wants to see such a right introduced on the EU level.