Google lobs invective at EU Copyright Directive


The EU’s new Copyright Directive is waiting to be ratified by the European Parliament and member states. Ratification in the next couple of months is all but certain; however, it’s not yet formal law across Europe. The Directive creates a single digital market across Europe.

Google speaks. This weekend Google’s SVP of Global Affairs, weighed in on the final language. Characterizing it as “one step forward, two steps back,” Walker initially praised the Directive but proceeded to critique Articles 11 and 13. Both have been controversial throughout the process.

Article 11 requires search engines and news aggregators to pay licensing fees when snippets of content are presented on their sites. Article 13 requires platforms such as YouTube and Facebook to monitor content uploads and filter potentially infringing material before it’s published online, which raises the potential for censorship or overbroad content filtering.

‘Vague, untested requirements’ and traffic losses. Walker said that Article 13 creates potential liability “for every piece of content a user uploads.” He said it also “creates vague, untested requirements, which are likely to result in online services over-blocking content to limit legal risk.” He argued the text “needs to be clearer to reduce legal uncertainty about how rights holders should cooperate to identify their content.”

He predicted that most publishers would exercise caution to manage risk and potentially block out legitimate content.

Walker added that the text of Article 11 had improved during final language negotiations and praised the inclusion of the publisher option to grant a free license to news aggregators and search engines. But he also said that small publishers would be hurt by uncertainty, which would lead to restricting how much content is shown in search results (fewer images, reduced snippets).

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Google recently ran a SERP experiment that imagined what results would look like in a post-Directive world. It presented news search results with links but with little or no text or images. Google said that “all versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers.”

Why you should care. Walker asked “policy makers to take these concerns into consideration ahead of the decisive vote and in the implementation phase that follows.” But assuming no changes in the language, there will likely be significant changes in search results and the way organic content is handled in Europe.

For example, it could radically impact the role of “influencers” using brand assets. Agencies or technology companies working on behalf of copyright owners/brands may be required to prove they are allowed to upload content to YouTube and Facebook.

Like GDPR, new processes will have to be created to fill in some of the blanks where there is now vague language. That will likely impact organic content campaigns and maybe paid media in some cases. Marketers’  linking strategies could also be affected, although the final language of the Directive says that links by themselves won’t be subject to licensing fees.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.

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