The link tax threatens the internet as we know it

The EU Commission's proposed copyright directive poses a threat to the internet's fundamental interconnectedness.

David Elston
20 March 2017

Links under strain. Pixabay/bykst. Some rights reserved.The "link tax" features some of the most impractical and extreme expansions of copyright rules ever seen. Copyright has already been bent out of shape; the original theory was to use copyright to protect the content creator and allow them to make back any investment on their idea, along with a healthy profit, over a fixed, 14 year period. However, with the current period set at 70 years, not only are copyright laws strangling innovation, but now these additional reforms seek to make criminals of everyone who does not pay a fee to simply link to someone else's work. In short, you may soon face a charge each time you publish a link to an article. From individual bloggers, to large publications, big media seeks to control how we direct people online, make citations on Wikipedia, or simply recommend a game or movie. But it doesn't stop there: saving photos to online shopping lists on sites such as Pinterest, or sharing any news article over Facebook or Twitter aren't in any way exempt. As it stands, there are no exceptions for non-commercial use. In fact, even search engines, which are essentially a long list of links gathered around whatever query you enter, could also be subject to the link tax. Julia Reda, Pirate Party Germany MEP, states in her article '10 everyday things on the web the EU commission wants to make illegal: Oettinger’s legacy': "These proposals are pandering to the demands of some news publishers to charge search engines and social networks for sending traffic their way, as well as the music industry’s wish to be propped up in its negotiations with YouTube." "These proposals will cause major collateral damage – making many everyday habits on the web and many services you regularly use downright illegal, subject to fees or, at the very least, mired in legal uncertainty."

What does this mean? By now, it's fairly obvious that implementing such a charge for links would fundamentally alter the way the web works.

Should the link tax succeed, we would see a wave of online censorship. The effects of this cannot yet be fully understood or overstated.

Perhaps the most foolish part of this bill is that it would actually drastically harm not only our digital economy but our "analogue" economy too. Viral promotions of movies, music or any other product would vanish as internet users would no longer be able to share links to movies or stores where products can be bought.

Remember how excited the internet became at the release of Deadpool? How many different blogs, vlogs, reviews and how many different people shared direct links to movie trailers, merchandise and other Deadpool related promos? Now imagine that was all subject to a link tax – it is difficult to say how drastic the impact of this would be, but it's probably safe to say we'd never see a Deadpool 2.

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