EU digital economy chief wants Google to pay up under new copyright law

Günther Oettinger, the man who will next week become the European Union’s digital economy and society commissioner, may be considering taking the so-called “Google tax” law from his native Germany and applying it across the EU.

Oettinger, who will report to digital single market commissioner Andrus Ansip, has been tasked with reforming European copyright law (a brief that was previously one for the internal markets department, rather than digital economy). He told Handelsblatt on Tuesday that he wants to introduce an EU-wide copyright law, to replace the current patchwork of national laws.

Interestingly, he appeared to suggest that [company]Google[/company] should be paying some kind of copyright fee that it isn’t currently paying:

When Google takes intellectual works from within the EU and works with them, then the EU may protect those works and demand a levy from Google for them.

This sounds an awful lot like Germany’s Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger (LSR), or “ancillary copyright for press publishers” law, which was passed in 2013 at the behest of powerful publishers such as Axel Springer. The LSR gives publishers the right to demand royalties from aggregators such as Google News for the use of copyrighted text in their listings, though it’s a bit fuzzy on the length of snippets that may be exempted.

The problem is, the LSR is a crashing failure. Just last week, the publishers gave up on their attempts to extract cash from Google, because Google simply threatened to delist them from Google News — something smaller German portals have already done. The publishers claimed this was an attempt at “blackmail”, but it worked.

Let’s see whether Oettinger really tries promoting this as a model for the whole of Europe – and whether he’s just trying to limit Google’s market power as he previously suggested he would do. Happily, he also told Handelsblatt that he needed to find a balance between the interests of users and intellectual property rights-holders, so he will only set out his proposals in 2016.

(I would ask Oettinger’s spokesperson for clarification on his “Google levy” comment, but he doesn’t currently have one, apart from the staff serving him in his current role as energy commissioner. Those staff understandably don’t want to dive into matters relating to his upcoming digital role.)

Incidentally, Oettinger also wants to create an EU-wide data protection agency. That will not go down well with some countries, particularly those – like the U.K and Ireland – that are at the other end of the scale from Germany when it comes to their strictness in applying EU privacy legislation. Another policy that’s likely to prove contentious is his desire to let telecoms firms make more profits, largely by easing up on consolidation.

Oettinger’s also the guy who blamed the victims of the celebrity photo-hacking incident for being “stupid”. Looks like his five-year term will be a vastly entertaining one.