EU Copyright Directive: Google News threatens to leave Europe while media startups increasingly worry

Press conference of Andrus Ansip, Vice-President of the EC, on geoblocking and e-commerce
Date: 30/11/2018. Location: Brussels – EC/Berlaymont. © European Union , 2018 Source: EC – Audiovisual Service Photo: Lukasz Kobus

The European Copyright Directive negotiation meeting, which was supposed to take place last Monday regarding the finalization of Article 13 and Article 11, was cancelled due to the fact that eleven out of 28 EU countries voted against the text. The text is expected to be altered by the Romanian Council presidency in order to be able to reach a qualified majority.

However, apart from the EU member states, Google is considering the possibility of removing its news service from Europe in case the Directive is implemented; something that will have a huge impact on the Old Continent. Moreover, several digital rights organisations, educational institutions, software developers and startups have expressed their disagreement and concerns because these changes are going to affect fundamental rights and freedoms, innovation and creativity.

Background

The European Commission presented the reform of the EU copyright Directive in the Digital Singe Market in September 2016. Afterwards, the EU member states gave the green light in May 2018 to proceed with this proposal making only minor alterations. Four months later, Members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the new EU Directive. Currently, it is under formal Trilogue discussions that were expected to conclude this month but the negotiations were postponed because several EU countries turned down the proposed text.

The disagreement was about Article 13 and was triggered by Germany and France which were insisting on a higher and lower level of small-and medium sized companies respectively. It should be mentioned that Articles 11 and 13 are the ones which are mostly criticized. More specifically, Article 11 extends the current legislation by obliging anyone who wants to use snippets of journalistic online content to have the publisher license beforehand. Article 13 intends to mandate internet platforms, which host huge amounts of content, to be able to identify and prevent copyright infringement through monitoring processes.

Taking into consideration the above, the EU Copyright Directive is most likely going to be stalled for several months given the diverse views on the topic combined with the EU elections which are to take place in May 2019.

European Commission stance

Andrus Ansip stated his dissatisfaction for the postponement of the Trilogue discussions. Commissioner for Digital Single Market said in a tweet last Friday: “Quite disappointed about this delay. I think we should not on the last meters lose sight of the major achievements that are already largely agreed.”

Google Vs. EU copyright amendments

This new copyright Directive is going to affect Google and other web platforms which will have to pay publishers in order to show their snippets in the news search results section. The latter has mobilised the tech giant firm which might remove Google news section from the bloc in case the new Directive is voted according to Jennifer Bernal, Google’s public policy manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

However, it seems very difficult for a company with Google’s magnitude to leave the European Union and starting losing its share from one of the biggest economies. For sure it will have a substantial impact on its revenues but not to the extent that cannot be shouldered. Thus, it is still very soon to tell whether or not Google’s threats will take effect. One thing is for sure though; the EU has showed that is not intimidated by US tech firms which have been already fined in the past.

Where do startups stand?

On the other hand, startups are also going to be heavily affected if the proposed EU Directive will come into force. The difficulties of startups to find investments are going to increase according to the founder of Tersee who is experiencing a similar law in Germany. Mikael Voss said on this issue: “After 4 years of lawsuits it’s still unclear whether this new law applies to our search engine. The unclear legal situation made it very difficult for us to find any investors. We have had to spend a lot of money on lawyers instead of new development.”

What is more, Martin Senftleben, Professor of Intellectual Property at the VU University of Amsterdam, supports that this copyright changes will not allow startups to grow. Mr Senftleben has stated that: “What you are doing is giving players that are already strong in the market place an even stronger position, and you take the legal certainty away for the startup initiatives to grow and become strong players themselves.”

Thus, the EU startups seem to be threatened by this Directive which will reduce innovation and prevent EU competition. The latter will have as a result to diminish investment funds which are critical for them to become bigger.

All in all, the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market seems to have crucial issues that need to be soothed in order to avoid serious consequences in the limitation of freedom and access to information and creation of uneven circumstances for EU startups, which will not be able to compete with bigger companies anymore.

Besides, similar laws which are implemented in Germany and Spain did not bring the preferable outcome as it had “negative effect on the visibility of the information” and no extra fee was granted to the right holders.

EU directives that will protect copyright are highly welcome and valuable as long as they are not directives that focus on protecting solely the copyrights of huge conglomerate publishing houses. Instead, the copyright protection needs to be equally distributed both to dinosaur media and media startups. Naturally, if enforcing copyright protection directives means increasing the cost of media startups to unbearable extents, then directives bluntly undermine freedom of media and speech in Europe. In theory, nobody wants that, what about practice though?

The Internet has given and gives a wide array of opportunities to extraordinary disruptors in heavily saturated markets, such as the media. If regulating this land of opportunities entails huge costs for startup media, then this is surely bad regulating. If the huge media lobby succeeds more obstacles to kick-starters, then again this is bad regulating.

The European Commission surely has the skilled staff to regulate the Internet in favour of media startups and ensuring a colourful and diverse polyphony, serving thus the free press primordial value in European democracies.

Why don’t you focus on that instead?

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