A victory in our fight to Save the Link!

Posted by Meghan Sali on Tue, 06/16/2015 - 15:41

Photo by cvrcak1 via Flickr CC

Great news everyone! We’ve been hard at work beating back bad proposals that would limit our right to link freely online - a campaign that this morning brought us all the way to the European Union Parliament, and to victory!

This morning, the powerful Legal Affairs committee of the EU Parliament passed what has been described as a ‘pro-user’ report on updating rules about how we share and collaborate online.

We prefer to call it pro-Internet, because users and the Internet are two sides of the same coin. Without users to create community, share knowledge, and make connections with each other online, the Internet is like an empty room: the possibilities are there, but without people to start a conversation it lacks the essential incentive for participation.

This morning’s crucial meeting saw especially positive news for two big issues that we in the Save the Link network have been following closely:

Big Win #1: Decision-makers rejected the ‘link tax’

A key issue was the debate over ‘ancillary copyright for press publishers’ AKA: the ‘link tax.’ Ancillary copyright regimes are already in place in Germany and Spain and are presently being considered in Austria. Under these regimes, aggregators and search engines - Google News, reddit, etc. - have to pay a fee for using snippets as small as a single word to link out to news articles. In many cases, these news articles are freely available elsewhere online, but the link tax scheme is a way to get certain web platforms to pay to link out to them. What gives?

The implementation of these rules has been ineffective at best, with most publishers in Germany choosing to waive the fee in favour of being listed in search results and linked out to. In the case of Spain, where Google News shut down operations after the new rules forbade the waiving of fees, the result was that many publications – especially smaller outlets that don’t have the name recognition of large national or international sites–experienced a significant reduction in traffic. It’s a lose-lose.

That’s why we were delighted to see EU Parliamentaries, under pressure from tens of thousands of people speaking out at SaveTheLink.org, reject an amendment calling for the expansion of the ‘link tax’ to the rest of the European Union. Ultimately, a move like this would have negatively affected Internet users across the globe, threatening freedom of expression, and setting a dangerous precedent for the freedom to link online. Find out more about why this is a terrible idea here.

Big Win #2: No criminalization of linking

A second key outcome of this morning’s crucial vote was the rejection of extreme proposals that would have made everyday Internet users criminally liable for linking out to anything that infringed copyright.

This persistent and ugly issue is one that we see raised again and again, as Big Media lobbyists desperately search for new ways to shore up their failing business model by restricting what people do online. Imagine visiting your favourite website–this includes blogs, your Facebook or Twitter feed, and any other place where people gather to share and collaborate online–and being held financially and potentially criminally liable for every single link posted, and the content on the other end of it.

Under this proposal, you could be sued if you link out to something that contains a meme with copyrighted content; you could even be punished if the person who owns the page at the other end of your link changes something on their site.

Unless we expect Internet users to check in on every link they’ve ever posted, this suggestion is ludicrous, and the dynamic nature of the Web would make its implementation practically impossible.

This would clearly be a disaster scenario for freedom of expression, and would create a huge chill factor over people’s willingness to link. That’s why we were delighted to see the amendments proposing this scheme disappear from this morning’s vote. Sadly, this came at the expense of entirely removing a positive statement on the fundamental nature of links to the Internet, but as Julia Reda–the report’s author–herself notes, this compromise kept Parliament from opening the door to much worse suggestions.

And it’s not just our supporters in the EU who can be pleased at these developments - if implemented, these extreme proposals would have had a negative impact worldwide. The EU is responsible for roughly 20% of global Internet traffic, and with that big a piece of the pie, many of your favourite websites would fall under such an irresponsible scheme, even if you’re not an EU resident yourself.

We couldn’t have done it without you

None of this would have been possible without tens of thousands of Internet users speaking out through our platform at SavetheLink.org, calling their MEPs, tweeting at Vice-Chair Jean-Marie Cavada:


.@JeanMarieCAVADA Internet users are asking you to stand against censorship. Will you vote to #SavetheLink? https://t.co/g6j6XspAYb

— pnbrown (@pnbrown) June 15, 2015

It’s not over yet

However, despite this morning’s positive news, this battle is far from over. In fact we’ll need to work to make our voices even louder. It’s clear that many MEPs just don’t get it when it comes to respecting the voice of Internet users - incredibly, they even passed an amendment stripping out an acknowledgement of the unprecedented number of Internet users who weighed into their public consultation on copyright.

We won’t be ignored, so if EU decision-makers think they’ve heard the last of us, they’ve got another thing coming.

Our passionate pro-Internet community should take a moment to relish in the big wins this morning - it’s important to celebrate when we see the effects of people power reaching into policy debates and shaping rules–that’s the way it should be!

But we know the fight isn’t over yet. Reda’s positive report now goes to a vote of the entire European Parliament on July 8/9, where we expect Old Media giants to again try to insert destructive amendments. We need to make sure that we protect the gains we’ve made so far, and push back against those powerful interests who want to restrict and censor our right to link online.

Stay tuned for updates about what you can do to make sure that Internet users remain in the driver’s seat. And in the meantime, if you haven’t yet, join our network at SavetheLink.org and we’ll keep you in the loop.