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IMCO supports link tax – several MEPs did not attend the vote

Am 8. Juni 2017 - 20:06 Uhr von Tom Hirche

This morning, the European Parliament's Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) voted on the Copyright in the Digital Single Market directive (2016/0280(COD)) as the first of five committees. The outcome is of great significance to the other votes that are yet to come. Unfortunately, the ancillary copyright for press publishers is still very much alive.

Link tax stays the same

The so-called DSM-directive was proposed by the European Commission in last year's September. For a few months now it has been and is still extensively discussed in several committees of the European Parliament. However, the various MEPs of the IMCO Committee could not agree on an own opinion in terms of the ancillary copyright for press publishers a.k.a. the link tax.

Each and every of the 22 submitted amendments dealing with article 11 of the Commission's proposal – this article contains the ancillary copyright – were rejected. That was done despite the fact that Rapporteur MEP Catherine Stihler (S&D) prepared a sound and balanced draft opinion of the IMCO Committee. It was aimed at ditching article 11 completely and backed by every political group except the EPP. Nevertheless, Stihler's draft opinion was unfortunately not adopted with the result that the IMCO Committee now supports the introduction of a link tax almost exactly as the European Commission had proposed it.

Little joy and plenty sorrow

Although article 11 itself remains as terrible as it has always been, a few other amendments have been adopted. The MEPs at least deleted the retroactive application of the ancillary copyright which was provided for by article 18. They also expanded the scope of the exception provision in recital 33 to now cover "acts of a computation referencing or indexing system such as hyperlinking".

But that is enough with the good news. What the MEPs also agreed on was to change recital 31 so that it now heavily criticizes news aggregators and search engines for posing "a severe threat to the employment and fair remuneration of journalists and the future of media pluralism". A German regional court has already ruled that the relation between search engines and publishers is a win-win-situation and publishing houses have clarified that they would profit from digital platforms. And what happens when they are forced to shut down could be watched in Spain after the introduction of their link tax.

Even more shockingly, due to the agreed on change of recital 32 the whole scope of article 11 gets extended to cover not only digital uses but also print. This is just absurd. If the publishers really only want to be enabled to more easily fight alleged massive online piracy, a mere presumption of representation would have been completely enough.

How could this happen?

The IMCO Committee has a total of 40 members plus another 40 substitute members. Still, the voting result only lists 19 votes for, seven against and six abstentions. Luckily, MEP Pascal Arimont's (EPP) completely unreasonable "alternative compromise" was not even put to vote as it did not find the necessary support. But there had been several amendments that could have been adopted if more MEPs were there. The complete left GUE/NGL group and half of the ECR group were missing. They might have good reasons for their absence, but in many cases it has been a very tight vote so that the presence of only a few more members could have made the difference. However, the outcome clearly shows that much more work needs to be done to convince our representatives to not destroy the internet but to enact fair and reasonable rules for the good of the people of Europe.

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