News publishers have broadly welcome proposed changes to EU copyright law which would stop search engines such as Google from using their content without paying a fee.
The proposed changes would also place the onus on video sharing sites such as Youtube and Facebook to ensure content is not in breach of copyright before it is placed online. Currently shared videos are only taken down by video-sharing websites if there is a complaint from the publisher.
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Critics of the proposed changes say that Google will simply stop listing publishers who demand a fee.
In Spain, Google closed its News website after a fee for publishers was imposed. In Germany, stricter copyright rules on use of online content led to some newspapers losing 80 per cent of their online traffic and instead opting to waive their rights.
EU president Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I want journalists, publishers and authors to be paid fairly for their work, whether it is made in studios or living rooms, whether it is disseminated offline or online, whether it is published via a copying machine or commercially hyperlinked on the web.”
Outlining the proposed changes, the EU said: “Newspapers, magazines and other press publications have benefited from the shift from print to digital and online services like social media and news aggregators.
“It has led to broader audiences, but it has also impacted advertising revenue and made the licensing and enforcement of the rights in these publications increasingly difficult.
“The Commission proposes to introduce a new related right for publishers, similar to the right that already exists under EU law for film producers, record producers and other players in the creative industries like broadcasters.
“The new right recognises the important role press publishers play in investing in and creating quality journalistic content, which is essential for citizens’ access to knowledge in our democratic societies.
“As they will be legally recognised as right holders for the very first time they will be in a better position when they negotiate the use of their content with online services using or enabling access to it, and better able to fight piracy. This approach will give all players a clear legal framework when licensing content for digital uses, and help the development of innovative business models for the benefit of consumers.”
Angela Mills Wade of the European Publishers Council said: “The EPC welcomes the European Commission’s commitment to make copyright fit for the digital publishing age. In particular we welcome the Commission’s recognition of the need to protect the significant investment in professional content and quality journalism made by publishers.
“Our readers will only benefit from further investment in quality journalism and informative and entertaining content which they’ll continue to find on a multitude of platforms. Publishers will continue to provide share buttons so readers can share and link our articles as before. Contrary to the widespread scaremongering, the link is not under threat.”
The EPC said the proposed changes will “have no impact on the freedom of the internet, in particular on linking”.
“All regular copyright exceptions, such as those relating to quoting, illustration, research and private copying, etc. will still apply.”
Google is opposing the proposed changes. Google vice president of global policy Caroline Akinson said: “This would effectively turn the internet into a place where everything uploaded to the web must be cleared by lawyers before it can find an audience.”
Last year there was an estimated £20bn spent on advertising in the UK, with the biggest slice of that (£8.6bn) going online.
Most of that online advertising revenue went to Facebook and Google. National and regional newsbrands were estimated to have accounted for £1.2bn of UK adspend each according to the Advertising Association figures.