The new European Commissioner with responsibility for “digital agenda” issues, Guenther Oettinger caused a stir in the media recently when he raised the possibility of introducing “ancillary copyright” payments, requiring search engine providers to pay for displaying copyrighted materials on their sites, on the EU level. The press was all of a sudden full of talk of a “Google tax”.
There are two problems with the “Google tax” term. In fact, there is one problem in each of the words:
Firstly, the implementation of ancillary copyright in Germany is such that Google does not actually pay. As others have explained (see Julia Reda’s article), the measure has already embarrassing failed consequences for the the publishers that lobbied to get it adopted. The most recent case happened in Germany, where the rights management firm VG Media asked Google a payment because of the news snippets from German newspaper publishers which are offered in its Google News. Google’s unsurprising response (having followed the same approach in Belgium, apparently unbeknownst to the German government) was to delete from Google News all the content related to VG Media associates. The sites in question had been put online in order to be read and not being on Google News would result in significant numbers of visitors being lost. As a result, VG Media decided to grant a “free license” to Google. Google will not have to pay anything to do the same it was doing before. On the other hand, all of the other companies in the market offering paid or free news snippet services, but that do not have Google’s market dominance, will have to pay the… “Google tax”.
Secondly, it is not a “tax”. A tax is, according to Oxford dictionary, “(a) compulsory contribution to state revenue, levied by the government on workers’ income and business profits, or added to the cost of some goods, services, and transactions”. The “Google tax” does not contribute to the State revenues in any sense, since it is a payment between different private companies.
It remains to be seen whether Commissioner Oettinger is really determined to make the same mistakes at the EU level that have already been made in Germany
Julia Reda: An EU-wide “Google tax” in the making? (28.10.2014)
French publishers want in on German plan to force everyone to pay to link to news (07.09.2014)
Spain’s “Google tax” gets green light with sole support of Popular Party (30.10.2014)