Google has warned that images may disappear from European search results if the EU Copyright Directive Article 11 passes, a policy which requires content aggregators to pay licensing fees to rights holders.
The European Union Parliament is attempting to ‘harmonise’ copyright law after 20 years without any major amendments, and Article 11 covers what’s being called the ‘link tax’.
The purpose is to address the disparity of revenue generated by rights holders on the one hand, and squillion-dollar online platforms, which have built a business model on the back of hosting third-party content.
It’s controversial, creating a divide strikingly similar to the copyright reform battle currently happening in Australia. Content creators and artists are up against tech giants like Google and Facebook.
Article 11 was shot down in July 2018, and an amended version unexpectedly passed European Parliament in September 2018. The Copyright Directive then needed to pass the Council of European Union, another legislative body.
But Google’s lobbying might helped grind things to a halt, as it emerged that disagreements took place during what’s called the Trilogue meeting, a ‘closed-door compromise negotiation between Parliament and Council’.
It’s currently looking unlikely Article 11 will pass.
It would be nice if these online juggernauts shared a tiny sliver of the massive profits generated from rights holders’ content. But critics of Article 11, such as Google vice president Richard Gringras, warn that companies like his will remove content rather than paying pesky creators licensing fees – in effect, paving the way for a kind of commercial censorship.
‘However, Article 11 could… require online services to strike commercial deals with publishers to show hyperlinks and short snippets of news. This means that search engines, news aggregators, apps, and platforms would have to put commercial licences in place, and make decisions about which content to include on the basis of those licensing agreements and which to leave out.
‘Effectively, companies like Google will be put in the position of picking winners and losers.’
The search engine shut down Google News in Spain after it introduced restrictive copyright law in 2015, and it threatened to enforce similar measures in all European Union countries should Article 11 (and 13) pass.
Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers’ Council, said Google is engaging in ‘scaremongering’ tactics.
‘[Google] wants to portray a doomsday scenario that would never happe,’ she told DigiDay. ‘It’s an interpretation that is distorted in order to provide a picture which makes it look worse than it is.’
A vote against the revised version of Article 11 recently took place, with 11 of 27 EU countries opposing the text which was drafted by Romania.
It’s now likely the EU Copyright Directive will either be amended again to become less restrictive, or be scrapped altogether.