Commentary

Did The EU Just Save Search, But Condemn YouTube?

It's often said that one hand gives while the other takes away, and that's exactly how Google will probably be feeling about the newly completed text of the EU Copyright Directive.

Finally, after a year or two of suggestions, wrangling and then disagreements over wording in multiple languages, the wording of the potential new law has been agreed upon. All that now stands between it becoming law is a vote in the EU Parliament, probably in May. 

The law is controversial because it introduces what critics call a "link tax." By including part of a news story or a magazine article in search results, Google would be forced to pay the original creator of the content a fee. The search giant's horror at the prospect is probably shared by anyone with half a brain.

A sentence summing up an article with a link that takes you to the full version is effectively offering publishers free traffic. Who would want to charge Google for sending them eyeballs?

There is also the problem, as always, with wording. The EU is saying that a word or short snippet does not count toward its "link tax," but nobody is entirely sure how long a snippet has to be before it does activate a requirement for the search giant to pay a fee for linking to the article.

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Regular readers may recall I suspected this would be the most under-claimed allowance or "tax" the world has ever seen. Which publisher in their right mind would want to charge Google for the right to receive free traffic. Pretty short queue, I'd imagine?

The good news for Google is that although the final wording of the Directive has not been shared, Bloomberg is reporting that my previous prediction is believed to be in the final text that will be voted on.

In short, publishers have the right to waive their right to the "link tax." I rather suspect the queue for the necessary forms to waive this right will be a lot longer than the nonexistent one to enforce it.

With any luck, then, common sense has broken out. 

However, it's not all good news for Google and its YouTube video service. The same could be said for all the social media channels, but it's likely YouTube will be hit hardest by a requirement that, at least on the face of it, appears to actually make a lot of sense.

If you didn't create a piece of content, you have to go get permission to reproduce it or -- at the very least, show you made a reasonable attempt to but it wasn't possible.

If material infringes copyright, and so doesn't have the permission of the rights holder to be reproduced, YouTube and other platforms will have the onerous task of taking it down. 

Remember, the background to this is the social giants being told by the UK Government they must do more to remove harmful material and protect children and the vulnerable online, and obeying GDPR would be a really nice little extra too.

This new Directive will make deleting terror and harmful material seem like a tea party. Can you imagine how many rights holders will want their material removed, and how many will constantly be flagging up illegal copying of their content?

Let's be clear, I'm sure anyone who creates content has every sympathy with programme makers, musicians and artists who have their content routinely posted on YouTube and social media channels without their permission. The trouble for Google is that this will become a tsunami of removal requests and judgement calls on whether the post originator has a right to put the content up or not.

So on the one hand we have common sense breaking out over search. On the other, May's vote is going to give Google the biggest headache it has ever suffered.

Expect to see a lot of ads for content moderator jobs very soon. 

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