European media ‘deeply regrets’ EU plans to ditch search engine payouts

The European Commission's proposal contained a controversial "Google tax" to charge internet companies for linking to online news. [Spencer E Holtaway/Flickr]

European media groups voiced concern Tuesday (14 March) that the European Union could ditch plans to force search engines like Google to pay them when their content is used.

A proposed EU directive on authors’ rights prepared by the European Commission included plans to create a so-called “neighbouring right” to such payouts from search engines.

But a European Parliament report on the proposal does not contain neighbouring rights, a move the board of the European Alliance of News Agencies (EANA) “deeply regrets”, Agence France-Presse (AFP), a member of the alliance, said in a statement echoed by various other European media groups.

Copyright: MEPs ditch plans for Google Tax, tourist photo ban

Members of the European Parliament have struck down two controversial amendments from a report on copyright reform – rules over the right to take photos of buildings and an EU “Google Tax”.

The 32 news organisations – which also include Britain’s Press Association, Germany’s DPA and Spain’s EFE – called on the parliament to reinstate the plan.

AFP noted that search engines and other internet aggregators have been making a profit using content “that they have not created or financed”, which makes neighbouring rights crucial to protecting the content of news agencies and publishers.

“Search engines have become data banks, exploiting content they have not created and for which they have paid no remuneration,” the EANA said in a separate statement.

“Unauthorised internet use of media content is threatening citizens’ sustainable access to quality news content and a grave concern especially when discussing how ‘fake news’ and disinformation can distort elections and other democratic processes,” it added.

Julia Reda, a German MEP from the Pirate Party who is the Parliament’s rapporteur on the Commission’s copyright proposal, argues exactly the opposite, however.

Speaking to euractiv.de in January, she said the Commission’s proposal for a “Google tax” on search engines “definitely threatens” freedom to share news on the Internet.

“Journalists have absolutely nothing to gain from the extension of copyright law to press publishers,” she said. “If users of social networks are only able to link to European news if they have first bought a licence, we will see a massive increase in content from sites not bound by this copyright law,” she warned, adding this will encourage “fake news” sites and state-sponsored publishers like Russia Today.

Reda: ‘EU copyright reform would benefit fake news sites’

Günther Oettinger is leading the EU’s copyright reform efforts. In an interview with EURACTIV Germany, MEP Julia Reda warned this would threaten the freedom of online news publications and benefit false news outlets at the expense of journalists and small publishers.

Background

The European Commission presented a plan to charge internet companies for linking to online news as part of a controversial overhaul of EU copyright law presented in September 2016.

The proposal followed a heated, two-year-long fight over whether the “Google tax” will help publishers stay profitable—or simply be an over-ambitious regulation that could “break the Internet”.

Hours before the executive published its copyright proposal, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in his annual State of the Union speech that he wants “journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web".

The so-called Google tax for news publishers has been sharply criticised by Google and other online firms that came under fire when similar laws were introduced in Germany and Spain.

Commission pushes controversial 'Google tax' to save news publishers

EU plans to charge internet companies for linking to online news were presented today (14 September) after a heated, two-year-long fight over whether the “Google tax” will help publishers stay profitable—or simply be overzealous regulation that could "break the internet".

Timeline

  • 22-23 March:  Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee debates copyright reform
  • 30 March: Deadline for amendments
  • June: Planned vote in Legal Affairs Committee
  • Late 2017 / early 2018: Expected plenary vote

Further Reading