Sunday 2 June 2013

Towards a Google Tax in Italy too?

On 22 March 2013 last, following the approval of the Bundestag, the German Bundesrat passed a piece of legislation known as Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverlege (‘LSR’) [or also "Google Tax" law]

By adopting this new law, Germany extended press publishers’ copyright by providing them with an ancillary right over news contents. 

The newly created sections 87f and 87g of the Urheberrechtsgesetz [the German Copyright Act]  provide for the exclusive right of press publishers to exploit their contents commercially for one year, thus preventing search engines and news aggregators (like Google News) from displaying excerpts from newspaper articles without paying a fee.

The stated objective of the LSR is to recoup some of the revenues traditional news publishers have lost to the web. With particular regard to news aggregators, two studies of the Iowa University and ETH and Boston University respectively, have found that not only are these unlikely to have complementary effects on the number of visits to newspapers' homepages, but rather appear to have a substitution effect, which is said to have contributed to declining online traffic in the past few years (see here).

Under-secretary Giovanni Legnini
Although personally I am against laws like the LSR, in that I am afraid that they might have anti-competitive effects and push the boundaries of IP protection a bit too far (although by means of ancillary rights only), there are rumours that the German example might not remain an isolated experience in Europe.

Readers will remember that there was a time when also France was considering introducing a law similar to the LSR (here and here). However, similarly to what had happened in Belgium (here), this idea was abandoned following Google's settlement with French press publishers (here).

Now it seems that also Italy might be about to enter the "Google Tax" debate.

This morning Corriere della Sera published an interview with Giovanni Legnini (under-secretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers in charge of publishing and implementation of Government's agenda), in which he spoke about possible measures in favour of Italian press publishers.

Among other things, Legnini mentioned the need for search engines to give their contribution to help Italian press system's renovation and innovation.
Probably cuter than the kind of "help"
Italy might want from Google

The under-secretary highlighted that newspapers and press publishers in general have been subject to a dramatic drop in terms of advertisement revenues and public contribution [the latter is quite a heated political topic at the moment]. Those who have instead increased their revenues have been search engines.

Therefore, Enrico Letta’s Government might “ask” these subjects to "help" renovate the press publishing system. How this will be done, however, will be explained in due time.

In the meantime, Italian Communication Authority (AGCOM) president Angelo Cardani has confirmed that plans to adopt an online copyright enforcement regulation are well and alive (here), although it is currently being discussed whether Italian Parliament should legislate in the area of copyright first. As AGCOM fans will remember, the latter is no new topic (here).

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