Google faced a blow last week after a draft to update copyright laws for the digital era in Europe was agreed upon on Feb 13. This is one of the latest attempts from European lawmakers to reign in U.S. tech platforms and impose more responsibility on them for sharing content that’s funded by publishers and creators.
The ramifications of this law — if passed in its current guise — will see bigger publishers have more leverage to negotiate license fees for displaying their content on services like Google News. Platforms like YouTube will also be liable for hosting copyright material, giving online creators more rights.
The final text of the draft still needs to be voted on by the European Union Parliament, which could happen in March or April, before being adapted by each country into their own law. Companies will have a grace period of two years after the law is passed.
Four European press publisher trade groups — the European Magazine Media Association, European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, European Publishers Council and News Media Europe — welcomed the agreement. Smaller publishers, some politicians and tech platforms don’t share this enthusiasm.
“The platforms have their community standards that they equate with the law, but they don’t,” said Daniel Friedlaender, head of the Sky Group’s EU office, at a VidCon event in London last week. “For us being regulated means we are trusted. There cannot be a place where there are self-enforced laws but no responsibility and oversight, philosophically you cannot have that. Community standards don’t do the trick. This hurts their business model. This is about profit margins.”
Google has campaigned against the laws being passed, which would see it forced to negotiate license fees with publishers, pay out to rights holders and ensure its technology is up to scratch to identify copyrighted material. Google has ramped up questionable tactics like trailing very reduced Google News tools should the law pass and lobbying YouTube creators to rally their young fans against it. The result is a lot of hyperbole and misinformation about what the new rules will mean for digital media, like killing off memes and destruction of the open internet, to name two.
“[Platforms] are weaponizing their users,” said Jon Cornwell, co-founder of video news agency Newsflare. “There is so much regulatory stuff but this is a first step in what will we do next, there is more that is coming at a national level and more that is coming at a European level. But these types of campaigns will be really unpleasant for society, they are pretty grim on a civil discourse level.”
The exact wording of the draft hasn’t been made officially public, leading to what James Creech, co-founder and CEO of software company Paladin, called a “war of misinformation.”
For example, a lot of media coverage on the final text has assumed that the platforms will be required to negotiate licenses with publishers when really there is no such obligation. Opponents of the reformed law have also claimed platforms will require upload filters to ensure copyright material doesn’t get published, which have raised censorship concerns among platforms.
While Google has campaigned for YouTube creators to lobby against the reform, not all creators are as interested in the directive, said Tim Armoo, founder of influencer platform Fanbytes.
“Most creators get incensed about breach of copyright, but that depends on the level of the creator,” he said. “Some don’t feel strongly because the exposure is the most important thing.”
Google’s Content ID, a tool that identifies copyright material and is one of the most advanced in the industry, has its flaws, according to Creech, partly because there’s so much content. Other platforms will need to create their own tools or, as Friedlaender suggested, Google could set the standard and white label the technology for other platforms that couldn’t afford robust tools. For European Parliament members, like Julia Reda leader of the Pirate Party in Germany, this sets a dangerous precedent for platforms like Google potentially being the arbiter of what content gets uploaded.
“Platforms have previously been laissez-faire with copyright,” added Cornwall. “Rather than being reactive, this will make them have a proactive responsibility.”
As it stands, the draft requires platforms to show they have made their “best efforts” to get rights, wording that concerns Friedlaender. “Platforms could be using this as a get-out-of-jail-free card,” he said.