The European Union’s hotly debated Copyright Directive is set to become law. The final language has been agreed upon and all that is now required is formal European Parliament and member-state approval, which are widely expected.

The Directive will govern copyright rules across Europe and is intended to create “a single digital market” and compensate content creators and publishers for their work. It has been praised by many large European publishers but criticized by free-speech advocates and smaller digital publishers, who believe it will result in negative outcomes for consumers and have unintended consequences.

Articles 11 and 13 survive. The two most controversial provisions of the Directive, Articles 11 and 13, survived in the final version. Article 11 requires search engines and news aggregators to pay licensing fees when snippets of content are presented on their sites. However, text links “accompanied by individual words” can be shared without a licensing agreement.

Article 13 requires platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to monitor content uploads and filter potentially infringing material before it’s published online. There are concerns about the effectiveness and accuracy of such filters and potential censorship implications.

The law also creates new liability companies that violate the rules. Technology companies had been insulated from liability for the copyright infringements of their users.

Google may shutter News in Europe. Last month Google ran a SERP experiment “to understand what the impact of the proposed EU Copyright Directive would be to our users and publisher partners.” It presented news search results with links but with little or no descriptive text or images. The company said that “all versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers.”

Google said previously that if the Directive becomes law, it may consider closing Google News in Europe, as it already has in Spain in response to similarly restrictive copyright rules. However, one of Google’s requested changes — allowing publishers to waive licensing fee rights — is apparently included in the final language according to Bloomberg.

The new rules are a kind of “GDPR for copyright,” which could significantly disrupt the way large internet companies handle content, user-generated content in particular. The European Parliament final vote is expected to take place next month or in April.

Why you should care. Assuming the law is passed by the EU Parliament and member states, there could be dramatic changes in the presentation of search results and organic content. New processes will likely need to be established for licensing agreements and to demonstrate copyright ownership, which could slow down the implementation of organic and even paid media campaigns in some instances.

Then there’s the potential impact on linking and Google’s ranking algorithm which still relies on links. The final language suggests that simple links won’t be “taxed” but it’s likely that uncertainty created by the law in the near term at least will impact marketers’ linking strategies.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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