Google Voices Concern Over Proposed Changes to EU Copyright Laws

Changes would require internet companies to become copyright cops and would impose unviable license fees on them, a Google executive says.

Google, EU

Google this week expressed disappointment with proposed changes to European Union copyright laws that, among other things, would give EU news publishers the right to charge license fees for content that companies like Google use to anchor search results.

In a post on Google's Europe Blog, Caroline Atkinson, the company's vice president of global policy, said Google in general supports efforts to fight copyright-infringing activity on the internet. But "there's an important balance to be struck—one that enables rightsholders to manage and profit from their work while also allowing the creativity and innovation of the web to flourish," she said.

The European Commission has proposed updating the EU's copyright rules to adapt them to what it describes as the changed realities of the digital world. The Commission has said the proposed updates would enable better choice and information access for internet users while creating a fairer environment for content creators and the press. The proposed changes would also update copyright rules for educational and research institutions.

The need for change stems from the increasing challenges that copyright owners and news publishers face in ensuring fair use of their content by internet companies, the European Commission has noted without naming any company. It has stressed the need for publishers and for copyright owners to be fairly compensated for their content by online content aggregators.

The Commission has called out online services that provide access to copyrighted video content uploaded by users—like YouTube, for instance. It has described such services as flourishing and becoming the main access points for content online while giving the actual copyright owners little ability to determine how their content is used.

The new copyright rules will reinforce the position of rights holders "to negotiate and be remunerated for the online exploitation of their content [on] video-sharing platforms," the EC has said.

Importantly, the changes will let EU publishers charge a license fee for snippets of their content that a company like Google might use to anchor its search results or for other purposes. In the past, Germany and Spain both passed laws that enabled publishers to charge such fees, but both efforts failed.

In her post, Atkinson lauded the Commission's recognition of content management technologies such as YouTube's ContentID in minimizing unauthorized use of copyrighted content.

But the proposals also contain worrying elements, she noted. For instance, the proposals suggest that online companies like Google proactively filter all text, images and video uploaded by users. "This would effectively turn the internet into a place where everything uploaded to the web must be cleared by lawyers before it can find an audience," Atkinson said.

The new rights for news publishers under the updated EU copyright regime is also concerning, Google's executive said. The proposal is similar to the failed laws in Spain and Germany and would hurt publishers and users equally.

As proposed, the new law would hinder Google's ability to send traffic for free to news publishers via its Google News service and Search, Atkinson cautioned. "After all, paying to display snippets is not a viable option for anyone."

Rather than "subsidies and onerous restrictions," the better approach is to find a way for all stakeholders to partner with each other in a mutually beneficially manner, she suggested. She pointed to Google's Digital News Initiative—a collaborative effort between news publishers in the EU and Google—as one example of the kind of approaches that are likely to be better than the proposed copyright changes.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.