A battle is raging between Google and traditional media outlets over copyright for news content and it will likely enter a decisive phase today. The legal affairs committee of the European Parliament this morning approved a draft set of rules that critics see as a dangerous encroachment on the flow of online information.
The crux of the issue is whether internet giants, like Google, YouTube and Facebook, should be allowed to earn money with third-party content, and whether they must give the authors their fair share of revenue, or be held liable if the content distributed via their platforms infringes on copyright.
EU member states last month endorsed the new rules that would force search engines to pay for showing snippets of news and would make websites like YouTube obtain a license from rights holders for displaying their content.
After gaining approval, talks will now begin between the EU Commission, parliament and government heads to turn it into law.
The tech industry has warned that the rules would hit internet users. Critics are particularly opposed to a planned ancillary copyright, also known as a neighboring or related right, which would give publishers, not necessarily the authors, the exclusive rights to sell the content online for five years. Spain and Germany have already introduced similar laws.
The second bone of contention is a plan that could lead to the introduction of so-called upload filters for online platforms. It would make video platforms like YouTube directly liable for copyright infringements if a user uploads protected content. At present, platforms only have to react when breaches have been pointed out to them.
Good news for publishers
If the rules become law they will be a triumph for newspaper publishers, allowing them to demand license fees from search engines that show even just a few sentences of content. They hope it will give them a slice of the ad revenues that Google and other sites earn from pages displaying the links.
But it’s still unclear if the committee will pass the changes. Jens Zimmermann, digital policy spokesman for Germany’s center-left Social Democrats in the German parliament, doesn’t like them. “The neighboring right will fail to achieve any of its goals, will entail major collateral damage and will absurdly strengthen monopoly providers rather than lead to an appropriate remuneration for creatives,” he said.
A sharing culture
Oliver Süme, head of German internet industry association ECO, said the rules urgently need to be reworked. Sharing content is a basic principle of the internet, he said. “It’s the precondition for a functioning information society and must not be blocked by regulation. That would turn the internet into a place of control and censorship by private companies.”
Critics also argue that Germany’s law on ancillary copyright hasn’t worked. After it was introduced in 2013, Google gave publishers the choice of agreeing to their content being displayed free of charge on Google News — or being removed from its news lists. The publishers backed down and agreed to Google’s terms because they didn’t want to lose the reach they get by having their news on the search engine.
Publishers now hope that unifying the rules across Europe based on the German model will give them more clout. Rudolf Thiemann, president of the Association of German Magazine Publishers, said enshrining the copyright of publishers in EU law would be a historic and overdue step.
“It’s high time that magazines and newspapers get the same legal protection that has long applied to film, TV and music,” he said. “Professional journalism is the best and most important reaction to polemics and misinformation in the internet.”
Catrin Bialek is an editor for the ‘companies and markets’ section at Handelsblatt. Till Hoppe joined Handelsblatt in 2008 as a junior editor after graduating from the Georg von Holtzbrinck School of Finance Journalism. To contact the authors: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org