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.
There are any number of problems with this idea, including the fact that it could result in the act of linking or quoting an excerpt being declared copyright infringement.
While that might sound strange, the fact of the matter is you can't effectively compel someone to pay a license fee without making the act of nonpayment illegal. In this case that would mean that quoting an excerpt without a license would be copyright infringement in Europe.
And since recent events have shown that Google would rather not use excerpts than pay such license fees, I see the very real possibility that this proposed law might be pushed to cover links as well. Otherwise there would be no way to force Google to pay.
And as the fallout from Spain's proposed Google tax shows us, that could hurt everyone.
Spain is currently considering a new addition to its copyright law which would give copyright holders an inalienable right (derecho irrenunciable) to be paid for the use of their excerpts. In other words publishers would be forbidden under this new law from granting a free license for the use of the quotes. (The coalition of publishers who wrote the new law learned from past failed attempts to extract unearned fees from Google.)
To be fair, the proposed tasa Google (Spanish for Google tax) is a unique law and the EU statute might end up looking nothing like it, but the fallout from that Spanish proposal shows us that this type of law would affect more than just Google.
As I reported in July, the news aggregator Menéame, as well as social networks like Twitter and Facebook, voiced objection to the tasa Google. They would get hit by the tax when a user shared an excerpt, and they could not afford to pay it. Menéame was actually looking at relocating outside of the EU, just so they could be sure to escape that tax.
Can you imagine how much it would cost if Twitter, Facebook, Pocket, Flipboard, or Reddit had to pay a fee every time a user posted a link and an excerpt? The cost would be astronomical.
And what about smaller sites such as myself? While one might assume that news sites might get a get out of jail free card, I'm not so sure that would be the case. Many news sites are also aggregators, so there's a good chance that we'd all get swept up as well.
Oettinger's proposal is a remarkably bad idea, and it comes from someone with a history of not understanding technology. Oettinger’s also the guy who blamed the victims of the celebrity photo-hacking incident for being "stupid".
Something tells me his five-year term will be a vastly entertaining one - but for all the wrong reasons.