Europe proposing news levy for search engines

Plan to let EU publishers demand payment from Internet giants if extracts of articles are used

LONDON • The European Commission (EC) is finalising a radical copyright reform that will give European news publishers the right to levy fees on Internet platforms, such as Google, if search engines show snippets of the publishers' stories.

The proposals, to be published next month, are aimed at diluting the power of big online operators, whose market share in areas such as search leads to unbalanced commercial negotiations between the search engine and content creators, the Financial Times reported yesterday, quoting officials.

The report comes days after the United States attacked moves by the EC to levy billions of euros from Apple for alleged underpayment of taxes in Europe.

EC's reforms proposal will add to the already strained relationship between Silicon Valley and Brussels, which are embroiled in fractious disputes over issues covering competition, tax and privacy, said.

The proposals plan to give news publishers "exclusive rights" to make their content available online to the public, which would force services such as Google News to agree to terms with news organisations for showing extracts of articles.

News publishers, however, are not obliged to levy a fee on selected content and could offer it for free. Linking content that is publicly available is, however, exempted from the rule.

"Granting such rights to news publishers would not affect the way users share hyperlinks on the internet," said Mr Christian Wigand, a spokesman for the European Commission. "It would recognise their role as investors in content."


Granting such rights to news publishers would not affect the way users share hyperlinks on the Internet. It would recognise their role as investors in content.

MR CHRISTIAN WIGAND, a spokesman for the European Commission.

Failure to push on with such a policy would be "prejudicial for... media pluralism", the commission warns in the document.

But the idea has been criticised, following failure of similar efforts in Germany and Spain.

Google responded to a mandatory levy in Spain by shutting down Google News in the country, while many publishers in Germany opted to waive the charge in order to still appear on the search engine's news results after suffering big drops in traffic.

Copyright reform activist and German MP Julia Reda said regulators were aware of the fiasco in Germany and Spanish "but structurally they are trying to do the same thing".

The size of Google would make it difficult for publishers to reach a deal even with the exclusive right, she said. "It is insane to believe that companies would win this battle."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2016, with the headline 'Europe proposing news levy for search engines'. Subscribe