EU clamps down on Google, Facebook to protect publishers, artists

By: | Updated: February 19, 2019 1:00 PM

The new rules will give video/music producers and publishers, among other, greater leverage for getting the tech giants to compensate them.

youtube, facebook, google Free speech activists also joined the fray, saying that the new copyright rules could result in censorship, where the pretext of copyrighted content could be used to stifle inconvenient truths.

The European Union will now insist on stricter copyright compliance from tech companies like Google, Facebook, etc., over use of copyrighted material such as videos, songs, published material on their platforms, including by users. This will give video/music producers and publishers, among other, greater leverage for getting the tech giants to compensate them. Under the new rules, the social media/search giants will be required to apply for a platform licence, and if the artists/producers/content creators refuse to grant this, firms will have to take down unlicenced content already present on their platforms or attempt to block uploads.

Similarly, they will be required to negotiate licences with publishers or get the latter to waive off their rights, else they can’t display news snippets under headlines. With much of advertising revenue that newspapers depended upon shifting to digital media, established newspapers faced unprecedented pressure online with news-aggregation services and social media becoming the new competition. On the other end, smaller publications/websites were only too happy to have the tech firms direct traffic their way, helping them get attention from advertisers.

Free speech activists also joined the fray, saying that the new copyright rules could result in censorship, where the pretext of copyrighted content could be used to stifle “inconvenient truths”. However, the need was to recognise that ‘Big Tech’ companies have benefited from displaying news articles without investing in journalism. Under the final deal, ‘Big Tech’ firms can be held to account and will not get a free run in benefiting off original content creators/producers/publishers. The new rules safeguard the interests of users of various platforms by putting the onus of negotiating licence-granting on the platform. They also overcome some of the fault lines within the publishing community—publishers who need the traffic generated through Google News can agree to waive off licencing requirements.

Big Tech is also partially protected with press content of more than two years excluded from the licencing yoke. The rules also allow for unlicenced hyperlinking of individual words or very short extracts, and by doing that, the internet ecosystem that depends on a slightly relaxed copyright regime for flourishing also gets some manner of protection. Also, tech firms won’t be automatically held responsible if unlicenced, copyright-protected material appears on their platforms if they make the “best efforts” to prevent the content’s availability on their platforms. Platforms with annual turnover of less than 10 million euros, having less than 5 million monthly active users and not more than three years old, are exempt from having to ensure that unlicenced copyright-protected material they have removed doesn’t appear online.

To be sure, some critics argue the rules will hinder organic growth of the internet as tech firms get increasingly concerned with content filtering, which itself may not always be perfect and block legal uploads. But, the larger consideration here is that the creative and the publishing industry can’t keep losing revenue to a YouTube/Facebook or a Google News.

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