The EU link tax was bad enough, but Canada’s threatens to be even worse

At the heart of Walled Culture the book (available as a free ebook in various formats) is the story of the disgraceful EU Copyright Directive and how it was passed. I won’t go into the details here, except to note that Article 15, aka the snippet tax or the link tax – the idea of forcing Internet platforms to pay for the privilege of sending traffic to news sites – never made sense. It was a product of greed and laziness on the part of newspaper publishers, who saw that Internet companies were making lots of money, and decided to ask their politician chums in the EU to pass a law to divert some of it their way.

Unfortunately, the success of that gambit has inspired publishers in other countries to do the same. As this blog reported a year ago, Australia has given the newspaper industry the same kind of law, and currently Canada is aiming to bring in similarly awful legislation. The expert tracking most doggedly the Canadian version, and analysing its deficiencies, is Professor Michael Geist. One of his recent blog posts makes clear that Canada’s link tax is going to be even worse than the EU’s.

As the post recounts, a Canadian senator with a journalistic background asked the department responsible for the new law an important question. The current legislation is framed in terms of making Google and Facebook pay. So what happens in the future, when, as is likely to happen, neither is profitable? Simple, came the reply: the Canadian government would just make TikTok pay instead. But TikTok doesn’t share news links in the way that Google and Facebook do. That’s irrelevant apparently: it’s enough that Canadian get their news from TikTok. As Geist writes:

If officials envision turning to TikTok for mandated payments despite the absence of links, their vision of the scope of “facilitating access to news” could treat access to news as awareness of news and thereby extend to little more than discussing or engaging with news on a large platform that otherwise qualifies as a “digital news intermediary”. That would obviously scope in activity that goes beyond reproduction, linking or even indexing. It would simply involve individual Canadians exercising basic rights of freedom of expression.

A tax on “discussing or engaging with news on a large platform” is an astonishingly foolish idea. It is an approach with absolutely no justification, one that if implemented would stand as just the latest monument to the newspaper industry’s envy of online platforms’ success. The fact that it is even being contemplated shows how the link tax can lead easily to something much more pernicious and dangerous. Meanwhile, supporters of the idea continue to paint it as merely another, “ancillary”, kind of copyright, and therefore nothing to make a fuss about.

Featured image created with Stable Diffusion.

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