EU Losing the Plot?

Written 14/06/18

We, along with every other company who deals with customer data, have recently finished our work arising from the EU's General Data Protection Regulation 2016/679 aka the GDPR. For The Hug it mainly affected our web site WalkLakes and I've blogged on that site about the work we did from a user perspective .

I have to say that as someone who uses the Internet a lot I applauded the aims of the GPDR so although it did involve us in work I was happy that we had to do it.

But now we're faced with a new EU Copyright Directive. We were first alerted to it in this post on reddit and I'll quote the key part in its entirety:

The new Copyright Directive has two big problems:

  • Article 11 would create a "link tax:" Links that share short snippets of news articles, even just the headline, could become subject to copyright licensing fees— pretty much ending the way users share and discuss news and information in a place like Reddit.
  • Article 13 would force internet platforms to install automatic upload filters to scan (and potentially censor) every single piece of content for potential copyright-infringing material. This law does not anticipate the difficult practical questions of how companies can know what is an infringement of copyright. As a result of this big flaw, the law's most likely result would be the effective shutdown of user-generated content platforms in Europe, since unless companies know what is infringing, we would need to review and remove all sorts of potentially legitimate content if we believe the company may have liability.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation were equally alarmed. In a long but clear article they wrote:

Article 13 introduces new obligations on internet service providers that share and store user-generated content, such as video or photo-sharing platforms or even creative writing websites, including obligations to filter uploads to their services. Article 13 appears to provoke such legal uncertainty that online services will have no other option than to monitor, filter and block EU citizens' communications if they are to have any chance of staying in business. ...

And of Article 11 they wrote:

The Link Tax Paid To Publishers ... That Publishers Don't Want

The upload filtering mandate in Article 13 isn't the only provision of the proposed Directive that concerns us. Another provision of concern, Article 11, would impose a new "link tax" payable to news publishers on websites that publish small snippets of news articles to contextualize links to those articles.

So how would all of this affect us, a small business currently operating within the EU? Well it's main effect will be on our web site WalkLakes so I'll use that to illustrate the problems, although it does affect our other enterprises too.

Article 11 - "The Link Tax"

Essentially this means that if anywhere on our web site we link to a page on another web site using that page's headline as the hyperlinked text we could be subject to a copyright claim as fair use appears to have been thrown out of the window. So that means that:

  1. We would no longer be able to risk linking to other people's web sites using explicit hyperlinking text, instead we would have to say something like "on this page the other site said..."
  2. We would have to stop users of our forum from doing the same thing. This would require us to either re-write the forum software or actively monitor all posts, probably quarantining them until we had a chance to check them (which would itself then involve extra work forever).

And it doesn't stop there. WalkLakes in particular, because of the nature of the site, is heavily dependent on search engine traffic. That's how people find the site - they search for "walks in the Lake District" and we're usually at or close to the top of the page for most search engines. So why is this an issue?

  1. Everyone else is also going to be affected by 1. and 2. above so we're going to have fewer people linking to us. That's a problem because Google and other search engines rank web sites in part based on the number of links to that site. So it will hurt our search engine page rankings.

Article 13 - upload filtering

We actively encourage users of WalkLakes to upload walk reports. You can find them on our forum. The walk reports very often include photos and GPX tracks. So that's sharing and storing user-generated content which means that:

  1. Under this directive we would be expected to inspect every photo and GPX track loaded to ensure that copyright rested with the person making the post. Frankly I have no idea how we could do this and if the directive goes through as written I see no alternative but to shut the forum down.
  2. Shutting down the forum would make the site appear less active, as there would be fewer page changes, and Google at least use this as yet another measure of page ranking so again this will hurt us.

In Conclusion

Now the thing is that we already have issues with people using our copyright material. However we don't see that article 11 or 13 will help us in that regard at all. We already have adequate tools under current law to help us police misuse of our content.

All these directives will do is make extra work for us and will simultaneously damage our business.

We therefore strongly urge our MEPs to oppose these changes.

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