A vote in the European Parliament on June 16 – that’s tomorrow – will determine whether Internet users like you and me can freely link to content and services of our choosing.
Why is this happening? Blame the usual suspects in the creation of unhelpful interventions in internet law: old media and old men.
The Pirate Party MEP, Julia Reda, wrote an excellent report on the modernisation of copyright laws for the online age. Her report is being voted on tomorrow, Tuesday, in the Legal Affairs Committee. As is standard practice, her report was appended with amendments proposed by her fellow MEPs.
550 amendments, to be exact.
90 of these amendments were proposed by one man, Jean-Marie Cavada, who is 75 years old. Julia Reda is 29 years old. Now, I am not being ageist by stating these facts. They are relevant. It was only recently, after all, that we saw an 80 year old legislator in the UK attempting to push legislation through regarding internet technology he openly had no intention of comprehending. His co-sponsors were aged 62, 67, and 67. The baby of that bunch, 62 year old Lord Blair, referred to criticism of their plan as “sanctimonious claptrap”. The simple fact is that legislators over a certain age view the internet as a malicious threat which must be controlled and suppressed. That gerontocracy’s latest target is links.
Cavada’s amendments not only contradict many of Julia Reda’s recommendations, but seek to enshrine the opposite and worse results into legislation. In other words, he is using a good report as leverage to drive through bad ideas. These ideas are stacked firmly in the favour of the large old media conglomerates who have controlled copyright law to the point where Reda’s report was even needed.
His plans are laid out here, but to summarise, they include:
- The idea that in some cases, creating a link to another page may constitute a breach of copyright;
- The idea that creating a link to another page may cause you to incur a “pay per link” tax;
- The idea that direct internet intermediaries such as SoundCloud and Google are “killing creators” and stifling the development of services by “other distributors of creative works” (e.g. traditional, old, big media companies);
- The idea that being forced to remove links to content is not a breach of human rights or freedom of expression;
- The idea that restricting links is okay because there’s tons of content out there on the internet anyway.
So what does this mean in practice? In the worst case scenario, it means
- Your links on social media could be deleted;
- Your comments on blogs could be redirected;
- Repressive regimes could remove links made to pages they do not want citizens to see;
- Not-so repressive regimes – Snooper’s charter anyone? – could do the same;
- The site you run could be forced to pay a “link tax” for the resources you have linked to for the benefit of your readers;
- You could incur personal legal liability for the things you have linked to, even in social media;
- You could incur personal legal liability for things that happen on pages even after you have linked to them, such as comments.
Sadly it’s not just EU legislators cooking up these harebrained schemes. Spain and Germany have already limited links through domestic legislation; India has upheld the government’s ability to block web sites; and US media conglomerates continue their drive to “break the internet” in their favour. Australia is getting in on the act too. If link censorship hasn’t touched you yet, it will sometime soon.
So what can you do to fight this?
- Educate yourself about what’s at stake;
- Sign this petition here;
- Contact your MEP today with this information;
- Spread the word to your fellow web professionals with these suggested social media posts, banners, and even a neat embeddable widget;
- Join a digital rights organisation in your country – it’s Open Rights Group here in the UK;
- Read Cory Doctorow’s book on how copyright law has been drafted entirely in the interests of big old media conglomerates.
If it feels like the internet you’ve always known is under threat, you’re not crazy. It is. Take steps to save it today.
Update 16 June after the committee vote:
— Julia Reda (@Senficon) June 16, 2015
Update email from the Save the Link campaign:
This week you stood up for Internet freedom when it mattered most. Thank you. You helped us to send a strong message to decision-makers by drawing a line in the sand: You won’t stand by while the right to link, a basic tenet of the open Internet, is attacked.
Thanks to you, the powerful Legal Affairs committee of the EU Parliament passed a pro-Internet report that will help to facilitate greater sharing and collaboration online.
Here are two really important takeaways:
1. Decision-makers strongly rejected the ‘link tax’ that would force some of your favourite websites to pay a fee simply for linking out to information freely available elsewhere
2. You won’t be criminalized for everyday activities like freely linking to your favourite blog.
This strong statement echoes what thousands of Internet users across the world told us they wanted in our crowdsourced report on what our Digital Future should look like. But our fight isn’t over. This report will see a final vote on July 9th, and there is still a risk that anti-Internet forces will suggest amendments to undo all our progress. We promise to keep you updated in the coming weeks, and will make sure you have an effective way to take action to Save the Link–the fundamental building block of the Web.
About the author
Heather Burns is a digital law specialist in Glasgow, Scotland. She researches, writes, publishes, consults, and speaks extensively on internet laws and policies which affect the crafts of web design and development. She has been designing and developing web sites since 1997 and has been a professional web site designer since 2007. She holds a postgraduate certification in internet law and policy from the University of Strathclyde. Learn about hiring Heather to write, speak, or consult.