A proposal before politicians on Wednesday could have a chilling impact on how websites are allowed to link to each other.

I would have once known about this months ago, but I am out of tech-touch these days so only found out a few days ago that politicians could be about to do something very stupid.

I also don’t often dig into politics openly these days, it’s a rather polarized environment, but sometimes things happen that cause alarm. One is a proposal being voted on in the EU Parliament on Wednesday that could impede how websites link to each other.

The ability for websites to link to another website is a core element of how the web works — it helps to make more content discoverable, surfaces little known facts and promotes accuracy by publishers.

Of course, like anything it can be abused, but in general, it’s a very good thing.

The European Union is proposing that no website can link to another, unless they have permission first — and the other website can have an option to charge money for that link.

It’s aimed at “big evil american firms”, namely the likes of Google and Facebook, and you can be absolutely certain no such proposal would exist if Facebook was a European firm.

The claimed intent is that companies such as Google and Facebook should be required to pay each time they use a snippet of text to link to another publisher.

Now, for European publishers, this is a potential revenue source, and the EU argument is that the big US firms benefit from the writing efforts of the publisher, so should pay for using a snippet of text on their website.

Which sort of makes sense, if you ignore the fact that the publisher also benefits from the traffic sent to them by Google, Facebook et al.

What they do is very different to, say some tech blogs who re-write the bulk of an article and then put a “source” link at the bottom. The source of the story getting hardly any traffic whatsoever. The Google/Facebook/Reddit option of only posting a snippet of text encourages clicks and traffic for the publisher.

Which is a good thing – so it is baffling that the EU would want to essentially turn off the traffic tap that drives so much revenue for European publishers.

But, as dubious as the rationale is, if that was it’s limit it would be a barely tolerable evil.

But it affects everyone.

For example, this very website’s weekly transport news roundup would almost certainly have to cease, as there’s no way I would be able to negotiate agreements with every single website I link to every week that I need to do so.

I also recently found this website being linked to by a lot of other news websites following the Stephen Hawking time travelling story — can you imagine the flood of emails drowning my inbox on that weekend if I had to approve every single inbound link. Actually, that wouldn’t happen, as the other websites simply wouldn’t bother linking to me, to avoid the hassle. And who could blame them?

So the small website that breaks a story loses out. That’s a serious problem, as it’s increasingly the small hyper-local blogs that are uncovering the local issues that the local newspapers used to report on, but don’t bother with any more.

So the proposal that politicians will vote on, while as a headline is claimed to be assisting European publishers could well entrench the big players and kill off the smaller websites.

Which is a very bad thing indeed.

You can read more at the protest website.


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  1. John b says:

    Those websites are a muddle of objections to copyright checking bots, but I can’t see anywhere where linking itself is discussed. Surely an anti-link law in unenforceable for small sites, and hosting companies would just switch to outside eu jurisdictions for their wiki and vanity page operations.

    Mind you the web is polluted with pointless cookie warnings, so people are afraid of the eu there

  2. Rich G says:

    Even allowing for the uncertain range of outcomes of tomorrow’s votes, it seems to be a gross misrepresentation to claim that “The European Union is proposing that no website can link to another, unless they have permission first”, and so forth. Indeed, I don’t think even the protest/lobbying website which you link to characterises the current proposals in anything like such terms, though I am sure you are reflecting in good faith what you have heard.

    https://www.theverge.com/2018/9/11/17845394/eu-copyright-directive-reform-date-vote-article-11-13 “It’s impossible not to see sense in both sides”(!)

    https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/08/what-you-need-to-know-ahead-of-the-eu-copyright-vote/ “The Society of Authors makes the very pertinent point that tech giants have spent millions lobbying against the reforms. They also argue this campaign has been characterised by ‘a loop of misinformation and scaremongering’.”

    https://www.ft.com/content/0675de12-b4fe-11e8-bbc3-ccd7de085ffe “None of the positions now on the table will destroy the internet or prevent citizens from sharing hyperlinks”, at least according to the EU’s digital commissioner.

    That’s not to say that the proposals are good or bad. But in the absence of more specific objections online to the revised proposals, I get the strong impression that their significance has been exaggerated. There are certainly powerful vested interests as well as altruistic campaigners on both sides. Whatever the nuances (which I’m not remotely qualified to judge), I think it unlikely that your superb weekly transport news roundup is in fact under threat.

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