Digital Publishing
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New copyright law may affect small publishers: Here’s what you need to know

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A new move made by the European Parliament to overhaul European Copyright law—which would require publishing sites to monitor copyrighted material, and make them legally liable for any sharing—could have a negative impact on small publishers.

Just last week, a committee of Members of European Parliament (MEPs), voted to approve Article 13 and Article 11. The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs voted by 15 votes to 10 to adopt Article 13 and by 13 votes to 12 to adopt Article 11.

This is important to publishers as the passing of these articles may affect smaller publishers’ ability to produce content and drive traffic back to their site.

Article 13: Tighter regulation over protected content

At the heart of the proposed new European Copyright Law is Article 13.

Article 13 is based around the relationship between copyright holders and online platforms. It will force platforms to enforce tighter regulation over protected content, reducing smaller publisher’s ability to drive traffic. According to the Article, those platform providers should “take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightsholders for the use of their works or another subject-matter.”

The reason for the outcry against Article 13 is the concern that smaller publishers, who rely heavily on news aggregators and platforms for their audience, will be cut off by tech platforms in fear of breaching the law.

Part of the purpose of the reform is to give publishers the same legal rights online as film and music producers, according to Angela Mills Wade, executive director at the European Publishers Council. “Under the new proposal, aggregators and platforms don’t necessarily need a copyright license to display publisher content, just some form of contract with the publisher, like a revenue share,” she said.

“Publishers will have their right and their own legal standing. It’s up to them what they do with it,” said Wade. “It boils down to whether you want an internet where those who invest in production are incentivized to continue to invest in production or a law that facilitates free riding and allows companies in this gray area of scraping and reusing content to continue.”

Although smaller publishers, in theory, will be given the same legal rights online as entertainment producers after Article 13 is implemented, smaller publishers may not be able to match up to the commercial strengths of organizations that may have moved on. This may cause an uphill battle for smaller publishers as they struggle to attract traffic back to their site without the use of news aggregators.

Artice 11: Introduction of ‘link tax’

What makes Article 11 controversial is its introduction of a”link tax”, requiring internet companies to gain permission from publishers before they can use a snippet of their work. On websites like Google and Twitter, for instance, a small part of the article is usually shown before someone clicks into it entirely. However, under the new rule, those technology companies would have to get permission and perhaps even pay to use that excerpt.

Designed to limit the power over news publishers that massive internet platforms like Google and Facebook have, Article 11 requires online platforms to pay publishers if they link to their news content directly.

In theory, Artice 11 has the potential to help small publishers and drive users to their homepage rather than directly to their news story, but it does not clarify what constitutes a link and could be manipulated by governments to curb freedom of speech of smaller publishers.

What’s next?

Open Rights executive director Jim Killock told the BBC, “MEPs must reject this law, which would create a robot-copyright regime intended to zap any image, text, meme or video that appears to include copyright material, even when it is entirely legal material.”

On the surface, it’s a move by the EU to address the disparity in revenues generated by rightsholders of protected content and the online platforms that host or link to the content. The concern is, how the EU parliament attempts to solve this may prove costly to smaller publishers.

As with all legislation, a new law won’t be passed anytime soon, but a vote to approve both articles is a step forward in making a major change in how publishers use and share information.