Digital Brief: Copyright Commotion

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“Google’s decision is not just regrettable. It is disrespectful of the spirit of the European directive and the French law.”

French Digital Minister Cédric O, Wednesday 25 September 2019.


COPYRIGHT UNDER PRESSURE. The European Commission has defended the EU’s controversial copyright reforms, saying the directive is ‘not in danger‘, after the news that Google will not pay online news publishers from France to display their content, following an announcement from the firm’s VP for news, Richard Gingras.

The European Parliament’s copyright rapporteur, Axel Voss, preempted the move, as did many in Brussels, telling us that he regards Google as a “digital dictatorship.”

Google’s move provoked the ire of French policymakers, with France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester calling Google’s decision “unacceptable”, while Digital Secretary Cédric O added that the tech giant’s move is “disrespectful of the spirit of the European directive and the French law.”

Google’s competitors will no doubt jump on the opportunity. Eric Léandri, the head of the search engine Qwant, recently said that he intends to strike a deal for French publishers akin to a recent agreement between VG media and German press publishers, with 5% of revenues generated from users clicking on links being passed onto online media.

RIGHT TO BE FORGOTTEN. The week had actually got off to a good start for Google after they successfully fended off a landmark legal challenge from the French data protection authority –  with the EU’s top court ruling that the search engine giant does not have to apply ‘right to be forgotten’ rules globally.

GERMAN DATA RETENTION. A groundbreaking verdict concerning data protection was expected yesterday in Leipzig, where the German Federal Administrative Court heard two lawsuits from an internet service provider and a telecommunications provider. They are resisting their obligation to store data, which was implemented into law as a reaction to a wave of terror attacks in Europe. The German government claims that data retention has become key to fight crime.

However, instead of making a final verdict on the case, the court in Leipzig handed it over to the European Court of Justice, which is going to decide whether the law is in line with EU fundamental rights.

Friedemann Ebelt, spokesperson of the digital rights organisation Verein Digitalcourage told EURACTIV’s Alicia Prager that “what we currently see at EU level is that our governments are taking an uncompromising course towards mass surveillance. Fundamental rights and judgments are being ignored, and Germany is joining in.”

‘UNDECLARED DIGITAL WAR’. The US are once again gearing up their campaign against Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, in the run-up to an October announcement from the European Commission on the future security of 5G networks.

Earlier this week, EURACTIV caught up with Tom Ridge, former US Secretary of Homeland Security and governor of Pennsylvania, who said: “There’s an undeclared digital war going on…The notion that we would willingly knowingly embrace, permit them to embed software into our telecommunications infrastructure, for me is just a security risk that’s not worth taking.”

Huawei took note of the comments emanating from across the Atlantic, with an official from the company informing EURACTIV that the country was “ruthless” in its approach to pressurize international partners. The official added that the recent “peace offer” made by Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, specifically to Amazon and Apple, for the use of its 5G technology, was ‘proof’ that Huawei has nothing to hide. “Will the US government be the one to hold back its own industry by not allowing businesses to strike deals with Huawei?” the official asked rhetorically.

The company is in no doubt that Europe is a key battleground in the US-China tech war. October 16 will see the European Parliament play host to a Huawei-organised event, co-hosted by MEPs Nicola Beer (RENEW group), Vice-President of the European Parliament, as well as MEP Pilar del Castillo (EPP group), MEP Maria Grapini (S&D group) and MEP Jan Zahradil (ECR group). US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland has been invited, and Zhang Ming, Ambassador of China to the EU as well as Director-General of the European Commission’s DG CONNECT Roberto Viola, will be in attendance.

COMMISSIONER HEARINGS & CVs. Digital aficionados, keep an eye out for Margrethe Vestager (Tuesday 8 October 14.30-17.30), Věra Jourová (Monday 7 October 14.30-17.30), Sylvie Goulard (Wednesday 2 October 14.30-17.30), Didier Reynders (Wednesday 2 October 14.30-17.30), and Mariya Gabriel (Monday 30 September 18.30-21.30),

Moreover, ahead of the hearings, the Parliament has published versions of each Commissioner-delegates’ CVs. See below for the relevant ones:

ONLINE TERRORIST CONTENT. Staying with the Parliament, MEPs in the Civil Liberties Committee this week voted to start negotiations with EU countries on rules that could force internet companies to remove content promoting terrorism within an hour of being informed. The decision will be announced in the next plenary session, and should there be no objections, negotiations are set to start in October.

DUAL-USE GOODS. Remember the story we broke earlier this year that EU proposals to establish export restrictions on spyware are being held back by Germany? Well, following Council’s adoption of their position earlier this year, trilogues are set to start soon, The first ‘technical’ trilogue begins today, involving MEP advisers. Parliament’s primary concern is to ensure that EU member states stop the sale of cyber-surveillance goods being exported to dictatorial regimes worldwide. Watch this space.

FACEBOOK MIND-READING ACQUISITION. Getting out of the Brussels bubble, news broke this week that Facebook has acquired ‘CTRL-Labs,’ a start-up that is involved in the development of ‘mind-reading’ devices. The company has designed a wristband that can identify signals the brain sends to the hand telling it to move. It remains unclear for what purpose Facebook would seek to use CTRL-Labs’ technologies.

LIBRA. A high-level event at the EURACTIV offices yesterday saw experts gather to discuss the future of the EU’s payments sector. A particularly controversial subject that arose centred around how the EU would seek to deal with Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency, Libra. Eric Ducoulombier of the Commission’s DG FISMA, confirmed that the EU’s executive branch is in the process of formulating a series of questions to address to Facebook ahead of the 2020 launch of Libra. Meanwhile, EPP’s MEP Markus Ferber came out in strong opposition of Facebook’s plans, saying outright that Libra should be banned in the EU.

BELGIAN CYBERSECURITY PLEDGE. Beltug, the Belgian association of digital technology leaders, has joined up with the country’s Cyber Security Coalition (CSC). Working alongside the CSS, it will collaborate on issues including cyber awareness and cloud security. Members of the CSC include CERT-EU, the Belgian government, KU Leuven University, and the country’s Data Protection Authority.

ICYMI – VIDEO GAME INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY. A French court ruling on 17 September in a case brought by the French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir against the video game platform Valve concluded that purchasers of games on Valve’s digital platform, Steam, are permitted to resell them. The move provoked anger from the industry with Simon Little, CEO of Interactive Software Federation of Europe (ISFE), saying: “If Europe’s creators cannot protect their investments and their intellectual property, the impact on both industry and consumers will be disastrous.”


On my radar.

The Commissioner hearings, of course! See above for relevant dates and times of the important sittings for those interested in Digital affairs. 


What else I’m reading this week:


Upcoming Events

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