Publishers in Europe have found an ally in their struggle against the online media “duopoly” of Google and Facebook.
This week, two committees of the European Parliament, the legislature of the European Union, voted to approve a proposed new statute that would make it easier for publishers to demand payment from the tech platforms for indexing and reposting even small pieces of their content.
The law isn’t final yet; it still has to be approved by the Parliament’s legal affairs committee, with a vote due in October. However, its legislative progress is enough to cause some alarm among internet freedom advocacy groups.
The new law would affirm publishers’ ownership, and also copyright protections, for all content they create. That’s a higher level of legal protection in most cases than the simple licenses they have previously relied on at the national level.
This would prevent Google and Facebook from automatically “scraping” the content and distributing clippings from it to their users, either in search results or in news feeds, unless publishers opted in to allow these automated functions. Thus, publishers could require payment for the right to index and share headlines and blurbs.
They could also demand that platforms remove clippings if they are posted without permission — significantly handicapping some of the platforms’ most basic (and popular) functions.
It’s no surprise Google and Facebook oppose the law, but a number of other entities have also criticized the measure, arguing that it will have unintended effects.
For example, the law might force the tech platforms to monitor all content uploaded by users for copyrighted material, which would make them more likely to err on the side of blocking uploads in questionable cases. It might also make it risky for internet users to share links to news content as part of online discussions and “open-access” publishing.
That could have a “chilling” effect on digital free speech.
Supporters of the law point out that various provisions are intended to protect such sharing activity by ordinary users. It also exempts sharing activity for academic, scientific and literary reuse, which allows for conventional academic footnotes and citations. They note the proposed law extends legal protections already accorded to other types of media, like broadcasters and film or music producers, to publishers.
In some earlier cases, where national legislatures have passed similar laws, such as in Spain, Google has simply elected to stop posting news clippings in its search results, rather than pay a fee to publishers, thus depriving consumers of one channel for finding news.
The anti-duopoly push in Europe has been gathering momentum in recent months.
Last week, French publishers and media companies launched a new consortium called the Gravity Alliance. It will challenge the dominance of Facebook and Google in digital ads by pooling members’ data resources to offer advertising clients more efficient programmatic ad sales on a large scale.