The proposed Article 11 “Link Tax” could cause trouble for tech companies that deal with content aggregation – but also for the publishers who the proposal aims to help. Social media websites that automatically create snippets from linked content could be faced with a difficult decision: play ball with European content creators or simply filter them out.
Article 11 already has momentum – it passed an initial vote by the EU Legal Affairs Committee and needs only parliamentary approval to move forward. It’s hard to tell how these regulations will impact companies outside of the EU, but if the recent deadline on GDPR compliance is any indication, it’s something US businesses should be paying attention to.
Article 11 aims to give copyright holders compensation when third party websites link to their content with excerpts, including headlines. This may sound like a positive change for content producers, but it’s not that simple. Instead of providing additional income for content producers, Article 11 regulations could cut them off from the most popular platforms like facebook, reddit and twitter, and even from search results on Google. This happened in 2013, when Germany passed similar legislation: google simply decided to ignore listings from German publishers like Axel Springer – their traffic levels dropped 80%. Publishers were forced to issue temporary exemptions in order to maintain their traffic.
One of the primary aims of digital publishing is to get more people to consume your content – nowadays this means sharing it via social media. Publishers who wish to restrict access to their material still have viable options: they can implement soft or hard paywalls, require membership, distribute their content via email or create a smartphone app. Traditionally, when content has been posted publicly on the web, linking to it and providing a short preview has been considered fair game. Publishers constantly encourage their staff to promote their content via social media channels. The Article 11 Link Tax sounds a whole lot like trying to have your cake and eat it too: publishers are desperate to have their content shared on social media, but they also want to be paid for the very act of sharing that content.
When faced with imminent implementation of GDPR regulations this previous May, US startups took several different courses of action. Many companies simply decided to ignore the regulations to ‘wait and see’. Other companies expended significant effort to bring their applications up to snuff in order to comply with GDPR for Europen users. Then there were the companies that simply decided to filter out ALL traffic originating from the EU, believing this was their best way to limit potential liability. If Article 11 passes, it’s likely that the reaction would be similar: some will ignore it, some will accept it, and others will just completely block out content from the EU.