Several weeks ago, the European Union Legal Affairs Committee ruled on a controversial measure. Dubbed Article 13, internet tech giants – including Facebook, Google, Microsoft – would have to install “effective technologies” to ensure content creators, artists, and authors receive fair pay for their work online. The committee approved the initiative. It heads to the European Parliament for a vote.
Now, the search giant wants to do everything in its power to bury the initiative. And, it has the funds to do so.
According to UK Music, Google has spent over €31 million ($36 million) on lobbying European Union members against Article 13.
The European Union’s Lobbying Transparency Register has confirmed that in 2016 alone, the search giant spent €5.5 million ($6.5 million) to “try and influence policy decisions.” Google paid eight consultancy firms, including McLarty Associates, MUST & Partners, and MKC Communications. 14 Google staff members have also worked on EU policies.
Google’s lobbying initiative hasn’t stopped there. The company has also lobbied the European Parliament through 24 other organizations, including OpenForum Europe. According to Michael Dugher, head of UK Music, the 24 organizations have spent €25 million ($29 million) to lobby EU member countries.
But, why does Google fear Article 13?
Under the ‘Directive on Copyright in the Digital Services Market’ (Article 11 for journalists along with Article 13 for the music industry), platforms that host user-generated content (UGC) would have to obtain music licenses. It would also prevent further ‘safe harbor’ provisions. Basically, the Copyright Directive would finally place websites like YouTube and Vimeo on par with streaming music platforms. They would have to pay higher royalties when hosting videos featuring copyrighted music.
Article 13 would also force the platforms to introduce content recognition systems. These would block UGC that infringes on existing copyrights. Social media websites, including Facebook and Twitter, would likely also have to install the systems.
Simply put, the measure would end YouTube’s historic exploitation of ‘safe harbor’ loopholes in the European Union. Google would now have to pay the music industry royalties for user-generated content featuring copyrighted content.
Mass Hysteria – “Article 13 means the end of memes, remixes, and ‘Internet Freedom.'”
Critics have argued that Article 13 would ‘censor the internet.’ Comedian Stephen Fry, for example, has argued that the vote would outright ban meme sharing on social media. Users could no longer create and share remixes and other unique content online.
On Twitter, he warned his followers,
“#Article13 threatens EU creators, leaving us vulnerable to censorship in copyright’s name. Don’t believe the creepy pretence that it’s there to protect © holders. It’s about putting power in the hands of media corporations. We can stop it!”
Of course, he – along with other critics – didn’t provide proof to support these claims.
Crispin Hunt, Chair of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors, has fought back against the ‘censorship’ claims. On Twitter, he wrote,
“It’s not about censorship at all. That’s a lie propagated by SV to manipulate the public to keep on giving their creativity for SV to monetize it. Article 13 only means that when someone uses someone else’s work to make $ they (the platforms not the user) pay the creator. Ace.”
Hunt also slammed Fry for spreading false information.
“Stephen Fry is one of those copyright millionaires he can afford to give away his work – several million others can’t. We want culture to have value online.”
Dugher also refuted the claims. He wrote,
“Some absolute rubbish has been written about the EU’s proposed #copyright changes. Among the most ludicrous is the claim it will mean the end of memes, remixes + user-generated content. This is desperate + dishonest.”
He added the Copyright Directive will “protect rightsholders in the digital age.” Tech firms would finally have to pay artists the true value of their works.
“To put it bluntly, we in the music industry want to stop firms like Google-owned YouTube ripping off creators and fairly reward them for the use of their work.”
English singer/songwriter Billy Bragg also voiced his support for Article 13. With the measure’s passing, YouTube’s ‘value gap’ would finally disappear.
“YouTube, which has 1.3bn users, paid £650 million ($858 million) royalties to music companies last year compared to the £4.3bn ($5.7 billion) returned by streaming platforms including Spotify and Apple Music, which have fewer listeners.”
European Union members will meet on July 5th to hold a vote on the Copyright Directive.
Featured image by Bloom Energy (CC by 2.0)