Google Lashes Out at New EU Copyright Rules

Posted on March 4, 2019 by Paul Thurrott in Google with 22 Comments

Google has issued a public rebuttal to recently proposed copyright rules that are aimed specifically at big American tech firms.

“Having studied the final text of the new copyright directive, we agree that the directive would not help, but rather hold back, Europe’s creative and digital economy,” Google senior vice president Kent Walker writes in a post to the firm’s Google in Europe blog. “This [directive] hurts small and emerging publishers, and limits consumer access to a diversity of news sources.”

As you may recall, the EU’s European Council in February 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 like Google that routinely “scrape” content and share it without paying the owner. If passed as law, which is widely expected, this change would prevent companies like Apple, Facebook, Google, and others from republishing the work other others, as they do today, without first obtaining permission from the content creators and then paying them for that work.

That sounds reasonable. But it also completely undermines how big American tech firms collect and then republish information from their own sites and services. Which is, of course, the point.

“The directive creates vague, untested requirements, which are likely to result in online services over-blocking content to limit legal risk,” Walker continues. “And services like YouTube accepting content uploads with unclear, partial, or disputed copyright information could still face legal threats … Article 13 would be bad for creators and users, who will see online services wrongly block content simply because they need to err on the side of caution and reduce legal risks … Under the directive, showing anything beyond mere facts, hyperlinks and ‘individual words and very short extracts’ will be restricted. This narrow approach will create uncertainty, and again may lead online services to restrict how much information from press publishers they show to consumers. Cutting the length of snippets will make it harder for consumers to discover news content and reduce overall traffic to news publishers.”

In an interesting twist, Google also attacks what it feels is a re-defining of what it means to be a journalist, or “press publisher.” This is a familiar topic today, where even the least-experienced blogger or podcast can incorrectly describe themselves as a “journalist” or “reporter” when they are really just amateurs or paid mouth-pieces for companies or industry groups.

“The directive’s definition of what counts as a ‘press publisher’ could well be interpreted too broadly, including anything from travel guides to recipe websites, diluting any benefits for those who gather and distribute the kinds of news most central to the democratic process,” Google writes.

Google’s complaints are likely to fall on deaf ears given that it was Google’s behavior that led to this directive. It exists explicitly to stop Google from stealing content from content creators and then punishing those that try to prevent it from doing so.

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