Live in Europe? You need to read this now.
While we’ve mostly been obsessed by the end of net neutrality in the US, there’s another assault on the internet as we know it. This one comes from Brussels, not Washington, and it will deliver ownership of the web to copyright holders.
The EU is trying to set up a system of copyright that would require any platform to have a license to link to a news article.
Like all laws, this sounds abstruse, dull. Why care?
The ‘link tax’ law and the free web
In effect, it would lock out all but the very largest players from participating in the web’s economy of information. Right now, the web is a relatively free network where information can be exchanged without paying a fee to anyone.
You don’t have to stump up the cash to have something printed and then transported, as newspapers, magazines and books once did. If you have something to say you can say it for free.
And if you want to show people where you came across the idea you can link to your sources for free.
In fact, the very first web publication in the modern sense did exactly that. Jorn Barger’s Robot Wisdom was the first blog on record and gave us the word – because he ‘web logged,’ keeping and publishing a record of things he’d found on the internet that he thought were interesting.
But under Article 13 of the new EU Directive on Copyright, that will change.
If the EU gets its way you’ll have to identify the copyright holder of any piece of content you use – news, yes, but memes too – and get their OK, potentially paying them a fee. (Imagine how likely the paywall-loving Times, for instance, will be to let you even link to their articles if they have a clear way tos crew a fee out of you for it.)
What effects will the link tax have?
Force web users to identify and pay copyright holders for linking to their material, and you kill microblogging and personal blogging like Twitter and Tumblr.
But you also kill corporate, small business and professional, and personal blogs. That’s WordPress and Wix under fire.
Italy’s Wikipedia has already gone ‘on strike’ in protest at the new law, shutting itself down to underscore the likely consequences of chaining the internet to a copyright law invented for the Gutenberg press; about as sensible as imposing on cars a speed limit that was designed for horses, which no-one would be crazy enough to do.
It’s about corporate power to make money on the web
It’s an assault on online scholarship, and on freedom of speech, and on the freedom to start and operate a business. Viewed in those terms it’s a betrayal of everything the EU is supposed to stand for.
And it’s a blatant grab by corporate interests for what may now be the world’s most valuable resource: data.
What we’re looking at is the enclosure of the internet: what was once a common space, used freely by all, will be walled off. Only those able to pay the toll will be allowed access – and the toll is high enough to ensure that only multinational corporations will fit the bill.
The deal isn’t done yet. Just like net neutrality, it’s a fight, and we’re losing. But we haven’t lost yet.
The European parliament is voting on the new law – today.
Don’t let them make it a law
So go through the Open Rights Groups’ portal and contact your MEP, or use the europa.eu website to find your MEP.
Here’s the link for the UK version:
MEPs aren’t as local as some other forms of representative – you likely have several. Contact them all if you like a free internet. This isn’t a vote on party lines and there’s no whip, so make yourself heard and you could preserve your right to free speech.
Meantime, one of the smartest and simplest moves you can make to preserve your own freedom on the web against the many forces arrayed against it is to get yourself a VPN!