EU digi-chief Gunther H-dot Oettinger has been characteristically clear as mud in explaining his plans for copyright reform.
Speaking on Wednesday night to the European Parliament’s working group on copyright, H-dot seemed to call for a so-called ancillary copyright law. This type of law, which requires news aggregators to pay royalties to publishers for using snippets of stories, has already been tried in Germany and Spain.
Of course, the biggest aggregator by far in Europe is Google - hence the pithier name “Google tax”.
In Germany, the Chocolate Factory called the publishers’ bluff, and royalty-collecting agencies gave the ad machine/search giant a free pass after it threatened to stop listing publications on Google News.
In Spain, the more recent law has had an even more catastrophic effect: Google has pulled its news service from the country altogether. Now the very publishers that wanted legislation to guarantee them royalties are lobbying their government to repeal the law. The Spanish law is stricter than the German one in that publishers cannot voluntarily waive their right to charge royalties.
As Spanish digital rights lawyer Diego Naranjo pointed out: "It’s not a Google tax, it is a NOT-Google tax".
“By pursuing an EU-wide ancillary copyright law for press publishers, Oettinger is ignoring the recent spectacular failure of similar laws in Germany and Spain. They did not fail because they were implemented at the wrong level, but because the idea itself is wrong-headed,” said Pirate Party MEP Julia Reda.
In a fine example of not sticking to his guns, H-dot took to that thing called Twitter to say:
New EU legislation #copyright should only cover what no longer works national level. Will be new rules, no extention existing nation rules.— Günther Oettinger (@GOettingerEU) December 17, 2014
Back in October, before he took office, the big H-dot was keen to tell the German press that he wanted to find a way to “protect intellectual works” and “demand a levy from Google”.
“If Google takes intellectual property from the EU and works with it, the EU can protect this property and can demand a charge for it,” he told the daily newspaper Handelsblatt.
All we can be sure of at this point is that he will present something before the end of 2015. Probably. We hope. ®