EU copyright a ‘web of complexity’ for content providers

Conference hears online services such as Google face difficulties over user content

Online copyright issues are mired in a "web of complexity" with even experts sometimes unable to decipher them, a legal adviser for Google has told a conference in Dublin.

The Irish Centre for European Law and the School of  Law at Trinity College Dublin hosted a seminar entitled Modernising Copyright in the EU Digital Single Market at TCD on Friday.

Google copyright counsel Dr Cédric Manara told the event that 400 hours of video were uploaded to Google's YouTube service every minute. About 40 per cent of these involved the "creative" use of material, which meant that every minute, some 160 hours of content was uploaded that was subject to rules that were "not really clear".

This was really a problem for anyone who wanted to know what they could post online and the area was “incredibly complex”.


Dr Manara noted there were more than a million possible combinations of 20 “copyright exceptions” that member states could conceivably have written into their national laws in order to transpose a 2001 EU directive.

The copyright landscape therefore changed depending on what exceptions each state had written into its law and the number of them.

Dr Manara said rights holders continued to enjoy their rights even if they were in different countries. But the situation for users was different, with an “imbalance” between the rights of copyright holders and those of internet users.

‘Clock ticking’

Every time Google received a notice to remove content, it had to ask what law or exception applied.

If the law was not clear but the content was not removed quickly, then Google risked liability. The longer it took to address the issue, the more the “clock was ticking”, he said.

Dr Manara said he was "hugely disappointed" with what he described as "watered-down" proposals from the European Commission to reform copyright law.

In December, the commission announced plans to modernise EU copyright rules.

As a first step, it adopted a legislative proposal on cross-border portability, to allow subscribers to online content services to continue using them while temporarily present in another member state.

It said further measures would follow this year.

Other panellists included Dr Eoin O’Dell of the School of Law at Trinity College, who spoke about proportionality, user rights and injunctions against intermediaries.

Dr Eleonara Rosati of the University of Southampton spoke about the EU's digital single market strategy and Dr Giuseppe Mazziotti of the School of Law TCD discussed the issue of territorial licensing and cultural issues around online content and subscriber services.