This article is also available in:
Deutsch: [ENDitorial: Auf der Suche nach einer Google-Strategie |]

The more time passes, the more difficult it is to explain the love-hate
relationship between European conservatives and Google. Every new
policy, both on European and national levels, appears on the surface to
be anti-Google but, on closer inspection, appears destined to ensure
that Google never has any significant European competitors.

At the end of 2011, the conservative European People’s Party group in
the European Parliament adopted a paper on the “Internet of Today and
Tomorrow,” which included several key pro-Google measures, which are
duplicated in the policies of national members of the EPP group.

For example, the EPP paper proposes “auxiliary copyright”, which is a
new layer of bureaucracy and expense to be imposed on any company
offering news search or news aggregation services on the Internet. This
policy is now in the process of being put into place by the
conservative/liberal German government. They feel that they need to do
this in order to help the hapless publishers whose livelihoods are being
ruined by people finding the material that they put on the Internet
and… reading it. The unintended consequence of this policy is that it
creates a significant new administrative and financial cost on small
companies providing aggregation services and preventing any new service
from entering the market. Indeed, the only kind of company that will be
able to comfortably deal with such burdens will be a large multinational
already in the business. Google wins.

The conservatives also propose increased liability for Internet
intermediaries for copyright infringements. Google already implements
far from perfect technology to remove content that might breach
copyright. It blocks content for European consumers not only if it is
breaking the law, but even if there is a fear that it might be breaking
the law – for example, Laurence Lessig’s “website chat” video. While
Google is far from happy with the Russian roulette that is European
intermediary copyright liability regime, this has helped limit the
number of competitors it has to deal with. Yahoo!, as one example, tried
to launch a user-generated video service but had to close down this
functionality because of the legal uncertainty caused by Italian and
Spanish court rulings. Google wins.

Perhaps the most egregious example of pro-Google lobbying and activism
comes from the Legal Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. The
Legal Affairs Committee recently voted on a proposal to make it easier
to provide access to so-called “orphan” works – works for which the
author or rightsholder cannot readily be found. The Directive should
have been proof that European copyright is about supporting culture and
not about locking it away from European citizens. Instead, a plethora of
amendments adopted in the Committee (albeit in very questionable
circumstances) will make access to and the digitisation of orphan works
vastly more complicated, costly and bureaucratic. The question then
is… which company has got the financial and administrative power to be
able to cope with this barrier to European culture? It is unlikely that
any European company will be able to build a business model on unlocking
access to European culture. Google wins.

Of course, it isn’t the case that policy is being deliberately being
made to promote the interests of Google. That, however, does not prevent
this from being the real world effect.

EPP hearing on the Internet of Today and Tomorrow (1.12.2011)

EPP paper – A Fair Internet for All Strengthening Our Citizens’ Rights
and Securing a Fair Business Environment in the Internet

EDRi response to EPP paper (03.2012)

Google’s auto-delete function (03.2010)

Lessig’s legal yet illegal video

Strange: Vote Against Freeing Up Orphan Works Achieves 113% Turnout In
EU Committee (16.03.2012)

(Contribution by Joe McNamee – EDRi)