Since last year, Google has been a vocal opponent of the European Union’s Copyright Directive. While the company recognizes the need for legal modernization, it argues that there are unintended consequences for the publishers and other parties that the EU is trying to help. Google yesterday shared its response to the finalized text ahead of a broader vote.

Text for the controversial copyright legislation was finalized in mid-February, and Google today released its thoughts after having had time for review. At a high-level, the company reiterates that “the directive would not help, but rather hold back, Europe’s creative and digital economy.”

Google is taking a somewhat conciliatory tone by acknowledging some improvements. With Article 13, the EU will not penalize “good-faith effort to help rights holders identify and protect works should not face liability for every piece of content a user uploads.”

However, at issue is how the “directive creates vague, untested requirements” that could still require YouTube to be more overzealous — or “err on the side of caution” — when blocking videos in Europe to avoid penalties. Google is asking the EU for more implementation details.

The text needs to be clearer to reduce legal uncertainty about how rights holders should cooperate to identify their content—giving platforms reference files, as well as copyright notices with key information (like URLs) to facilitate identifying and removing infringing content, while not removing legitimate material.

Meanwhile, the company notes that the latest Article 11 seemingly “gives publishers the freedom to grant free licenses, which makes it easier for publishers of all sizes to make money from getting more readers.” This part of the directive focuses on how Google has to pay a license every time a story snippet or summary appears in Search or News. Smaller publishes have argued that they should have the right to waive that fee at will, and allow their content to appear.

However, the Copyright Directive is still enforcing a limited definition of snippets: facts, hyperlinks and “individual words and very short extracts.” Everything else will require that tech platforms strike a license, with it impossible to make a deal with every publisher today. Google has shown that traffic to news sites can decline by 45% with snippet-less Search results.

Finally, while we share the directive’s goal of promoting quality journalism, the directive’s definition of what counts as a “press publisher” could well be interpreted too broadly, including anything from travel guides to recipe websites – diluting any benefits for those who gather and distribute the kinds of news most central to the democratic process.

Google hopes that changes and considerations will be made before the final vote by the European Parliament. The company has yet to reveal how its specific products will adjust to the Copyright Directive. Google previously discussed the possibility of pulling Google News and limiting stories in Search.

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Abner Li

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