Heather Humphreys reassured Google over EU copyright reform

Minister said Ireland had won significant changes to ‘allay the concerns’ of tech giants

Heather Humphreys: in call to Google said ‘Ireland had already been successful in reducing the burden on platforms’. Photograph: Eric Luke

Heather Humphreys: in call to Google said ‘Ireland had already been successful in reducing the burden on platforms’. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Ireland achieved “significant improvements” to European copyright reforms to “allay the concerns” of Google and other major technology firms, a Minister told the online search giant earlier this year.

Minister for Business, Employment and Innovation Heather Humphreys made the remarks in a phone call with a senior Google executive about new European laws on copyright.

While advocates say the laws protect the future of professional journalism and combat misinformation, several major tech companies including Google lobbied against their introduction.

During the call, Kent Walker, a senior vice-president with Google, outlined “key concerns” about the latest text of the European Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, which was adopted earlier this year.

In response, a record of the call shows Ms Humphreys “noted the significant improvements to the text that have been achieved by Ireland to allay the concerns of platforms, including Google”.

The Minister went on to state the proposal from Brussels was about balance between stakeholders and protecting “rightsholders” – usually publishers – “and that Ireland had already been successful in reducing the burden on platforms and sharing it better with rightholders”.

Under the directive, which was approved by the EU parliament in March, Google, YouTube, Facebook and others will have to sign licensing agreements with musicians, authors, news publishers and others in order to use their work.

Directive

Among the concerns raised by Google with Ms Humphreys related to an article of the directive which will force services such as Google News to take out licenses with publishers and newspapers to show short snippets of text. Tech firms also opposed article 13 of the directive, which would make the Google-owned YouTube legally responsible for user-generated material hosted on its platform. Google opposed this reform, and the company also raised this issue with the Minister.

The record of the call states that the Monaghan TD “noted Ireland’s agreement on the need for sufficient information” on article 13 and “indicated that we can make the point” in relation to issues arising under article 11.

Angela Mills Wade, executive director of the European Publishers Council, told The Irish Times that “nobody involved in, or close to, the negotiations will be surprised at this level of access and influence – not to mention the apparent desire of the Government to please Google”.

Ms Mills Wade, who campaigned in favour of the directive, said that while lobbying is part of the democratic process, she bemoaned “the surprising but also disappointing gullibility of some parties and even governments who bought the Google narrative without any proper analysis of what was really at stake, not least the long-term sustainability of an independent free press, and the livelihood of millions of individuals whether freelance or employed”.

She said the campaign was characterised by disinformation and scaremongering from big tech firms.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Business said the government negotiates EU legislation “acting in the best interests of Ireland and the Irish public”.

She said in developing Ireland’s position on the copyright directive, the department “encouraged and welcomed input from all stakeholders to help achieve a balanced approach. This included the receipt of input during the period of the negotiations from a wide range of stakeholders including digital platforms, such as Google, and press publishers”.