On 26 March 2019, the European Parliament approved the EU Copyright Directive.

Article 15 (originally 11) of the revised EU Copyright directive prohibits online content providers from linking to news outlets/publications without the prior authority of the publisher – the so called “Link Tax”. This means that for an online content provider to be able to link to a news article on their site, it will need a licence from the publisher. It may also need to pay for the right to use the article (unless the publisher waives this right).

What is the aim behind Article 15?

Article 15 improves the bargaining position for publishers. Currently, online content providers are permitted to freely link to news articles on their websites without the publisher’s prior consent and without providing remuneration to the publisher for use of its publication. Article 15 seeks to level the playing field between publishers and online content providers. Publishers will become entitled to negotiate fair licensing agreements and remuneration for use of their works online.

Why is Article 15 so controversial?

  • While Article 15 provides that the new rule will not apply to hyperlinks and uses of individual works or very short extracts, it is not clear to what extent a publication can appear on a site before it is a breach.
  • It would impose an administrative burden on the online content provider to negotiate licenses and seek consent prior to featuring any article on its platform. Google has already warned that it may have to shut down Google News in the EU if the “Link Tax” proposal is successful.
  • Smaller online content providers may not be able to afford the “Link Tax” which could have a damaging impact on their businesses.
  • It could interrupt the free flow of independent news and lead to a situation in which only the wealthiest online platforms will deliver selected press articles.
  • European news outlets could decline in favour of news outlets which are not subject to EU regulation.

As it stands, the precise impact of Article 15 and potential consequences remains unclear.

Click here for a general overview of the Copyright Directive.