With headlines in the UK dominated by Brexit, the European Union’s Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market might have passed a few people by. First surfacing in 2018, the directive drew immediate condemnation from various advocates of internet freedom. In particular, articles 11 and 13, commonly known as the ‘Link Tax’ and the ‘Meme Tax’ respectively, have drawn howls of protest from some quarters. Nonetheless, the Directive was officially voted through the European Parliament last week.
What’s all the fuss about? Whether you’re in Europe, or work with content produced in the EU, the new directive will affect your organisation. The law (as laws are) is long and complex, but let’s look more closely at the controversial sections. The Meme Tax extends the definition of what’s covered by copyright laws for the digital age, so that online content sharing providers (places where the content you see is not produced by its original authors), such as social media sites, will have new tools to scan for and remove copyrighted content.
The most common example usually given is that memes might be restricted or in some circumstances banned for commercial use because they draw on others’ picture or video content. Exceptions are given for parody and education, but the point is, businesses will need to be careful what they use without explicit permission from the creator of the content.
The Link Tax may prove more significant still. A lot of widely used websites, including the likes of Google and Facebook, attract users by gathering news from different sources into one place, often netting a good bit of money from advertising, but without having done any of the hard, journalistic work themselves. This is primarily who the Link Tax is aimed at, allowing publishers to get remuneration from their articles being shared. But there is a concern that unintended consequences will arise.
A commercial company might no longer be able to share a link to their own press coverage as a thanks to the publication or simply to highlight good PR, without paying for a licence or trying to obtain special permissions. In EU countries where a link tax has been trialled, it led to people not wanting to share articles at all, for fear of being fined, as well as general confusion about what can and can’t be done. The end-result – less coverage for companies and publications – means there is a lot of anxiety about what a similar system could mean for organisations in the future.
We could list all the possible implications of the new directive, but the important question, is when change will come here in the UK?
Like most things in the news right now, it all comes back to Brexit. The UK’s Intellectual Property Office has said how much of the directive is adopted here will entirely depend on the results of the Brexit process. Either way, with our close ties to Europe, having a good knowledge of what can and cannot be done with content that is covered by the law will be crucial. EU counties now have two years to implement the directive in their national laws.
So, as with GDPR before it, this is change that will require businesses to keep abreast of the changes and ultimately adopt new information sharing policies and processes to manage them.