Europe bat­tles Google News over ‘snip­pet tax’ plan Axel Springer, News­corp say tax is only hope to save news in­dus­try

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

A ma­jor bat­tle is brew­ing in Brus­sels over an EU re­form plan that would force in­ter­net ag­gre­ga­tors such as Google News to pay news­pa­pers for dis­play­ing snip­pets of their ar­ti­cles on­line.

Google is fu­ri­ous at the re­form idea, but pow­er­ful pub­lish­ers, in­clud­ing Axel Springer in Germany or Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News­corp in the UK, af­firm that a tax is the only hope to save a news in­dus­try starv­ing for rev­enue. The fight, which will play out for the rest of the year, is the lat­est row strain­ing ties be­tween Google and the Euro­pean Union, which slapped the Sil­i­con Val­ley gi­ant with a 2.4 bil­lion euro ($2.8 bil­lion) fine over un­fair com­pe­ti­tion in June.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of free news on the in­ter­net has brought the news­pa­per in­dus­try to its knees, with many con­sumers un­will­ing to pay for on­line ser­vice, pre­fer­ring zero-cost plat­forms such as Google News or Face­book.

“Unau­tho­rized in­ter­net use of me­dia con­tent” by ag­gre­ga­tors and search en­gines “is threat­en­ing cit­i­zens’ sus­tain­able ac­cess to qual­ity news con­tent,” said the Euro­pean Al­liance of News Agen­cies, of which AFP is a mem­ber.

“It is there­fore cru­cial that neigh­bor­ing rights be cre­ated for news agen­cies and other pub­lish­ers, cov­er­ing all ac­tiv­ity” on the web, the agency said. Neigh­bor­ing rights is EU-speak for the obli­ga­tion for on­line plat­forms such as Google or Face­book to pay for show­ing short quotes from copy­righted con­tent, such as news ar­ti­cles.

The so-called “snip­pet tax” pro­posal is only one of sev­eral com­po­nents of a ma­jor EU draft law in­tended to up­date Euro­pean copyright law in the dig­i­tal age. The “snip­pet tax” is largely based on a tax in­tro­duced in Spain that crit­ics say ac­tu­ally harmed pub­lish­ers when Google de­cided to close down its news ag­gre­ga­tor in re­sponse.

A sim­i­lar law in Germany saw pub­lish­ers swiftly give Google open ac­cess to their con­tent fol­low­ing a steep drop in on­line traf­fic.

‘Very sen­si­tive topic’

Based on these ex­am­ples, the Com­puter and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion (CCIA), whose mem­bers in­clude Google and Ya­hoo, called the idea “ill-founded, con­tro­ver­sial and detri­men­tal to all play­ers.” In a blog post pub­lished last year, Google said: “It would hurt any­one who writes, reads or shares the news­in­clud­ing the many Euro­pean star­tups work­ing with the news sec­tor to build sus­tain­able busi­ness mod­els on­line.”

The two camps on the is­sue are now bat­tling it out at the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and the EU coun­cil, the in­sti­tu­tion that gath­ers the na­tional gov­ern­ments of the 28 mem­ber states.

Diplo­mats said the snip­pet tax has di­vided mem­ber states, with no com­pro­mise in sight for this year. Ap­proval will re­quire a spe­cial EU ma­jor­ity that must ac­count for 65 per­cent of the bloc’s pop­u­la­tion and not solely a ma­jor­ity of mem­ber states. For now, France, Spain and Germany have de­clared their sup­port for the tax while Ire­land, UK and the Nordic coun­tries are against.

In the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, three com­mit­tees have ap­proved a ver­sion of the tax pro­posal, but the key Le­gal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee has still to de­cide, with lob­by­ists work­ing hard to in­flu­ence its de­ci­sion.

French MEP Marc Joulaud said the com­mit­tee is ex­pected to ap­prove the law on Oc­to­ber 10 with an even­tual vote on the over­all copyright re­forms at a ple­nary ses­sion in De­cem­ber or Jan­uary.

Then the hard work be­gins. EU mem­ber states, MEPs and the com­mis­sion must ne­go­ti­ate a com­pro­mise of their sep­a­rate texts. “This is a very sen­si­tive topic in par­lia­ment but also for jour­nal­ists, some for, some against,” said An­drus An­sip, Com­mis­sion vice-pres­i­dent in charge of the Dig­i­tal Sin­gle Mar­ket. “I didn’t pro­mote this idea, but pub­lish­ers are very keen for neigh­bor­ing rights,” he added. —AFP

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