Public Policy

European copyright: there's a better way

For hundreds of years copyright has promoted creativity and progress. It’s a principle that holds true today and one we support through leading-edge efforts to combat copyright-infringing activity.

Today the European Commission announced its proposal to update copyright rules for the digital age. There’s an important balance to be struck—one that enables rightsholders to manage and profit from their work while also allowing the creativity and innovation of the web to flourish.

There are things to like in the proposal. We’re pleased to see the Commission mandating more transparency and data sharing for artists and rightsholders, an important step to building fairer and more effective copyright marketplaces. This should empower European creators to connect more effectively with their audiences and better understand how they are rewarded.

We’re reassured that the Commission has recognised that content-management technologies like YouTube’s Content ID play an important role in tackling the unauthorised use of protected content (although we’d caution against rigid requirements that smaller and start-up companies may find hard to implement).

But there are also worrying elements, given that the web depends on users’ ability to share content. Today’s proposal suggests that works including text, video, images and more must be filtered by online services. This would effectively turn the internet into a place where everything uploaded to the web must be cleared by lawyers before it can find an audience.

Under the rules of the European eCommerce Directive, that’s not how it works. Platforms are not obliged proactively to monitor what users upload—but must act when notified of an infringement. Through Content ID, YouTube blocks or monetizes content that has been claimed by a copyright owner according to their instructions. This is an important distinction, without which many hosting services simply could not exist.

We’re also disappointed to see a proposal for a new right for press publishers, despite tens of thousands of voices—including ours—calling for a different approach. The proposal looks similar to failed laws in Germany and Spain, and represents a backward step for copyright in Europe. It would hurt anyone who writes, reads or shares the news—including the many European startups working with the news sector to build sustainable business models online.

As proposed, it could also limit Google’s ability to send monetizable traffic, for free, to news publishers via Google News and Search. After all, paying to display snippets is not a viable option for anyone.

We believe there’s a better way. Innovation and partnership—not subsidies and onerous restrictions—are the key to a successful, diverse and sustainable news sector in the EU, and Google is committed to playing its part.

The Digital News Initiative, which now includes more than 160 European publishers, has already delivered game-changing, open-source technology through Accelerated Mobile Pages, enabling news publishers to deliver their stories and advertising to mobile phones at lightning speed, while maintaining control of their content and monetisation options. The DNI is also investing 150 million Euros in news innovation projects in Europe.

And YouTube’s Content ID, which we’ve spent 9 years and $60 million to develop—including recent advancements in machine learning —currently handles 98% of copyright management on YouTube. Since its launch Content ID has paid out over $2 billion to rightsholders while encouraging innovation by a new generation of creators eager to promote their work.

Today’s proposal is a first step towards a better functioning marketplace for European creators and consumers--but the appropriate balance has not yet been struck. It’s vital to preserve the principles of linking, sharing and creativity on which so much of the web’s success is built, and we’re keen to play our part in the discussion.