A specific article in the controversial copyright directive may result in Google withdrawing their news aggregator service from the EU, EURACTIV has learnt. EU ministers are set to discuss the issue and reach an agreement on the file later this week.
Article 11 of the highly contested legislation is referred to by supporters as the ‘neighbouring rights’ clause and opponents as the ‘link tax’ article. Its objective is to oblige platforms to pay publishers for posting snippets of information contained within links that are shared across social media.
Vice-President of Google News, Richard Gingras, spoke to EURACTIV recently and warned that Google is “deeply concerned” about the inclusion of the article in the final copyright directive.
“The possibility of us shutting down the Google News service in the EU is very real,” Gingras said, adding that Google had to take similar measures after the Spanish introduced their own copyright law in 2014. He also stated that any move to close Google News in the EU would not be preferable, and, in an ideal world, would not be what Google wants to do.
Google’s comments came as EU negotiators prepared to sit down and thrash out an agreement on Article 11 on Thursday (13 December). The talks are supposed to conclude inter-institutional negotiations, but with divisions still evident, an agreement may prove to be difficult to reach.
Google’s 2014 decision meant that links to articles from Spanish news publishers were banished from Google News.
Moreover, when Copyright measures were introduced in Germany in 2013, Google decided to un-list the news items that had not contracted a direct agreement with the tech giant.
“There could be unintended negative consequences that will put Google in the position of having to strike commercial deals between publishers,” Gingras said. “This would put us in the difficult position of having to decide which publishers we would prefer to prioritise.”
Gingras added that the measures proposed in Article 11 would “sharply reduce the number of EU publishers” due to the fact that US platforms would gradually turn away from the smaller players in the market, damaging readership levels.
The plans, he says, will damage media plurality across the globe, as well as stifle innovative business models in journalism.
Google’s presence in the copyright debate comes at a time in which research conducted by the Corporate Europe Observatory details some of the lobbying trends by businesses and trade associations.
The study shows that Google starting putting its foot on the gas as part of the copyright debate in September, using its sponsorship of non-official intergroup EU40 to take musician Wyclef Jean to the Strasbourg Parliament.
Since then, Google, via YouTube, has actively campaigned against Article 13, dubbed by opponents as the ‘censorship machine’ clause, due to the fact that it would oblige platforms to establish filtering technologies that would vet content prior to publication, in order to ensure that copyright rules are not breached.
This is an area in which YouTube has had prior experience, after establishing their own copyright infringement algorithm, Content ID.
The technology cost a purported $100 million (€88 million) and has faced a barrage of criticism due to the material it has blocked, such as videos that incorporate parodic or satirical elements.
However, the CEO’s study also shows that Google’s lobbying had not been as extensive as had first been reported by many, including the UK Music Industry, who claimed that Google had spent up to 31 million euros lobbying the EU on copyright. The research states that this figure is based on an incorrect calculation.
On the other side of the coin, a stakeholder group of authors and performers banded together on Monday (10 December), releasing a joint statement aimed to rally the benefits of the proposed copyright directive. The letter was signed by a alliance of artists’ groups, including the Association of European Performers’ Association, the International Council of Music Creators, and the European Visual Artists.
“The core value of the copyright licensing system relies on the creativity of authors and performers,” the statement reads. “Their remuneration should therefore be at the heart of the industries’ business model and not be considered merely as an adjustment variable”.