EU Targets Big Tech with New Copyright Rules

Posted on February 14, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Cloud, Social, Google with 25 Comments

In a blow to giant US tech firms, the European Union has reached a provisional agreement to dramatically alter its copyright rules. Under the terms of the agreement, content publishers gain strong new rights and protections against firms that “scrape” content and share it without paying the owner.

“The directive introduces mandatory exceptions to copyright for the purposes of text and data mining, online teaching activities and the preservation and online dissemination of cultural heritage,” a European Council press release explains. “The directive introduces a new right for press publishers for the digital use of their press publications. Authors of works incorporated in the press publication in question will be entitled to a share of the press publisher’s revenue deriving from this new right.”

In other words, companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and others won’t be able to simply republish others work, as they do today, without first obtaining permission from the content creators and then paying them for that work. These new rules will impact all kinds of online content, including news reporting, music, videos, and more. And it will impact some of the biggest and most popular websites and services, including Google Search, Instagram, and YouTube.

Individual European states have tried to curb this kind of theft for years, but tech firms have typically responded by pulling services from those countries. For example, when Spain complained about Google stealing news stories from Spanish publications, the search giant simply stopped offering Google News in Spain.

Individual publishers have seen even harsher remedies, as Reuters noted: When German publisher Axel Springer tried to prevent Google from reusing its news, traffic to the site mysteriously fell off a cliff. It’s almost like Google’s search results aren’t entirely organic.

The new rules are provisional and need to be confirmed by EU member states. But that is widely expected to happen without any drama.

“Today’s agreement is a sign of our determination to set up a well-functioning digital single market that encourages the development of new content-based businesses in the interest of all European citizens,” Romanian Minister for Culture and National Identity Valer Daniel Breaz says in the EC press release. “We will therefore unlock the opportunities of the digital world, both for creators, whose rights should be fully respected and for the European citizens, who should take advantage of the benefits brought by the Digital Single Market.”

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Comments (25)

25 responses to “EU Targets Big Tech with New Copyright Rules”

  1. JerryH

    And there goes the traffic to the news sites in the EU. People aren't going to click on the links that don't have a little excerpt telling what the story is about. And of course nobody is going to pay the original publishers for an excerpt like that. So if their news sites show up in the search results at all they will just be a link with no context. Watch the news publishers reaction as that happens.

    • wright_is

      In reply to JerryH:

      The problem isn't the little excerpts, it is the wholesale copying of whole documents, images, videos etc.

      YouTube have known from the very beginning that people upload other people's works without permission, but instead of trying to do anything about it, they have earnt money off this infringement and hidden behind Safe Harbor and take down notices. Now they have been told that they have to actually do their job properly and ensure that no copyright is violated before putting the video online.

      This is something YouTube should have done from the get-go and scaled it up with their organic growth. But they have ignored it and now they have to work out how do it at scale, without being able to test it at small scale and grow it.

      It is the same for Facebook, they don't check to see whether somebody uploading text, images, videos etc. have the right to do so.

      Google with its news as well.

      These, and other companies, have knowlingly ignored existing laws and looked for loopholes to aboid doing their duty, now it is coming back to bite them.

      • Chris_Kez

        In reply to wright_is:

        Google, Facebook and their defenders will argue that due diligence is not possible at scale, as if they had no choice but open the floodgates and allow everyone in the world to upload whatever they want, whenever they want. These companies chose maximum growth and engagement over every other consideration. And they're enabled (and maybe even forced) by venture capital funding that is willing to overlook terrible business practices and even unsound finances for years in the hopes that a single big payout will make it all worth it. Just look at Uber. They're terrible and they lose money quarter after quarter, but they're driven on in hopes it will all pay off in the end.

        • lvthunder

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          I'm saying how do they know if something being uploaded is copyrighted or not. I upload copyrighted stuff to Instagram all the time. I just am the copyright holder of all those pictures. How are they supposed to know that those pictures are mine and that I didn't go to some other site and steal them to post?

        • Dashrender

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          You make a good point about Uber - but I'm not sure how that relates to this copyright thing. It is utterly impractical for anyone of any size to be able to reasonable be assured that something the random public is posting is copyrighted or not.

          A staff of millions could be posted to Youtube just for this sole purpose and you'd still not 'know' you were in the clear.

          This law will have an extreme chilling effect on content creation/distribution.

          Take down notices definitely seemed like the correct method for this solution.

          • wright_is

            In reply to Dashrender:

            Take down notices were just an irritation for YouTube, it stopped them earning money. The problem is, by the time the video is taken down, it has been uploaded another dozen times. But they don't register a fingerprint and stop re-uploading of know copied content, they just slap ads on it and wait for the next takedown notice.

            Just look at the dozens of copies of illegally hosted TV shows, a very small percent are actually on a channel that belongs to the copyright holder or has been licensed by the copyright holder.

            Legitimate content gets taken down by people who don't own the copyright or they get ad revenue from somebody else's video - TWIT suffers from this on a regular basis, their original content gets slapped with a copyright notice and the money gets paid to some South American entity, TWIT then has to petition YouTube to remove the illegal use of ads on their content by an illegal organisation in a foreign county.

            Google doesn't care, it has made a token gesture that is totally inadequate, can be abused by both sides and they still earn money off of it.

      • lvthunder

        In reply to wright_is:

        There are two different issues you bring up. One is Google going out and getting content on their own. That is within Google's ability to know who owns what.

        Content uploaded by users is a different thing. How is Google (YouTube) or Facebook supposed to know what is copyrighted and by whom? I can use my camera or drone and take photos and videos that look just like some of the media or just another photographer.

    • Vladimir Carli

      In reply to JerryH:

      do you really believe it's fair that google and others steal content from creators? Spain has no access to google news from years, everyone is alive and kicking over there... Google just disregarded them because they are small. Let's see if they shut down the service in 28 countries...


      • lvthunder

        In reply to Vladimir:

        define "steal content". I don't see Google News as stealing content because when you click the link it takes you to the content. Not a Google page with the content on it.

  2. red.radar

    Is the issue the abstract summary that comes with the link or the link itself ?

    i think it will do more harm because google will just show publishers content from outside the EU. This effectively neuters the local voice on the issue. I am sure Europeans will not appreciate American interpretations of their news.

    Or or worse yet google becomes a publisher of news and everything has their viewpoint.

    seems like the eu is trying to save an old business model.

    • lvthunder

      In reply to red.radar:

      They will probably just shut down the news service in the EU.

    • rm

      In reply to red.radar:It is OK if Google becomes a publisher of news, they will soon be found guilty of prioritizing their news over other sources, just like everything else they do (see the anticompetitive practices Google is guilty of in EU countries; some how only in EU).

  3. christian.hvid

    Unfortunately, this copyright overhaul conveniently overlooks the outdated "cassette tax" that is levied across much of the EU. Huge amounts of money are funneled from consumers to copyright holders through substantial levies on just about any type of storage media - including cassette tapes, CD-RWs, USB sticks, SSDs and regular hard drives - that could potentially be used to store pirated copies of music, videos and other content. And this in a day and age when almost everybody consume their media through streaming services.

    Although I generally agree that it's about time that Google and others stop stealing ad revenue from content creators, I also feel that copyright holders have been too focused on teenagers sharing MP3s with each other instead of countering the more existential threat posed by the tech giants. This may finally be a turning point.

  4. RobertJasiek

    The EU parliament also still needs to agree.

    The new draft of EU copyright law is NOT only about the big companies but does great harm to tiny businesses who need an upload filter from the 4th year on. The might not be able to afford it and upload filters cannot distinguish between legal and illegal so amount to censorship where there ought to be freedom of speech (provided no copyright is violated, as in proper short citations).

  5. lvthunder

    Maybe Apple saw this coming with their paid Apple News supposedly coming out next month. I bet Apple is forced to turn off the free tier in the EU because of this law.

  6. locust infested orchard inc

    Google is simply a signpost, directing one to the location of the availability of the news. Google is not a reporter or publisher of news, nor is it a news-gatherer.

    It ought not to discriminate between the authentic fact-checked news sources, else it would be reasonable to suggest Google is acting in a biased manner as depicted in the article by the Axel-Springer case.

    Google believes it can throw its weight around forcing other organisations to submit to its will, else these organisations will incur the wrath of this Mountain View behemoth.

    The politicians need to do more to control these unwieldy tech companies as they have far become a law unto themselves.

    Whilst the EU is serious about reigning in the power of the tech companies, the US continues to discuss wall-building. Evidently the US have higher priority issues to be debating.

  7. Chris_Kez

    We need a more detailed understanding of what this will look like in practice.

  8. Daekar

    Well... this could be messy. I can see both sides of the issue, so I'm glad they're not forcing me to make the decision. No matter what happens, it will be interesting.

  9. shmuelie

    I guess that's one solution to GDPR. Kill all business to the EU.

  10. LocalPCGuy

    The thinking that links to a news site need to be pre-approve puzzles me. The actual news site winds up receiving a higher amount of traffic than it would have on its own. Or, do I completely misunderstand what news links do? If a website plagiarizes a story, then they should be penalized. Just a link, no.

    • wright_is

      In reply to LocalPCGuy:

      The problem isn't the link or the results themselves. But how much information or images are previewed on the Google News page.

      The argument was that Google News was showing enough information that in many cases, people got enough information and never clicked throug, so Google profited the advertising on their news page, but the people who put the effort into writing the story didn't receive any revenue.

      I've never used Google News, so I can't really comment on that - it now only shows the headline.

      YouTube is another matter, it built its whole business model on knowlingly ignoring copyright laws by trying to find loopholes in copyright law, so that it didn't have to perform its duty of ensuring the information was published legally. Instead they earn advertising revenue on illegal content until the original copyright owner finds it and sends a takedown notice.

    • rm

      In reply to LocalPCGuy:A link Google is making money from.

  11. Matt Lohr

    This site has grown larger than "Paul's blog." Even the subhead states "News, Reviews & Analysis." However, I find most articles to be a confusing admixture of genres, and premium vs free is no long a useful distinction for this subscriber. So I suggest adopting the convention of larger publications by categorizing news, analysis, and opinion, with editorial enforcement of these lanes.