France Passes Copyright Law Demanding Royalties For Every Image Search Engines Index Online

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France Passes Copyright Law Demanding Royalties For Every Image Search Engines Index Online

from the that'll-work-out-just-fine dept
The Disruptive Competition Project is detailing yet another bad copyright law change in Europe -- France, in particular, this time. Called the Freedom of Creation Act, it actually passed a few months ago, but people are just beginning to understand and comprehend the full horror of what's happening. Basically, it will now require any site that indexes images on the internet (i.e., any image search engine) to pay royalties for each image to a collection society.
How would this work? When an image is published online, the reproduction right and the right of communication to the public of this image shall be transferred to one or more collecting societies appointed by the French government. Online communication services “reproducing and communicating to the public images for search and indexing purposes” shall have to obtain a license from those collecting societies to index images legally. The license fee will either be based on the revenue accruing from the exploitation of the service or be a lump sum fee.
Of course, this makes no sense. In the US, thankfully, multiple cases on things like Google Images have found that indexing the images and showing thumbnails is clearly fair use. But that's not how it's going to work in France. 

France Passes Copyright Law Demanding Royalties For Every Image Search Engines Index Online


This seems particularly pointless on any number of levels. First, image search engines aren't "publishing" any works, they're just indexing what's already online and showing people where those images are. Second, if people creating works don't want them indexed they can just use robots.txt. And, yes, someone else might post those images elsewhere, but that's no reason to blame and charge a search engine. But the bigger issue, honestly, is that it's hard to see how this sort of system actually helps content creators at all. Does anyone honestly believe that the money this collection society collects will go to the people who created the indexed images? Remember, copyright collection societies have a very long and very detailed history of abuse and corruption. They collect lots of money, but they're not so great about paying it back out. And, as the Disruptive Competition Project points out, this is particularly problematic in this case, where both jurisdictional questions and just basic logistics make it almost impossible for the collection society to accurately distribute funds:
Moreover, the territorial scope of this measure is unclear. Are the rights of reproduction and communication to the public transferred to a collecting society when an image is published on a French website or on any website? Is the measure based on the nationality of the works? In practice, this measure may claim ownership of the billions of pictures uploaded everyday globally – even though the huge majority of those pictures are published today for personal use by the close-to-3-billion smartphones’ owners, not expecting any revenue. It is also worth noting that a sizable number of those pictures is published under a Creative Commons license that usually refuse remuneration in return, for example, for attribution. Therefore, this measure would override the choice made by users publishing under such a license – and more generally, would deprive rightsholders of the choice between licensing their pictures or not. 

Even worse, there is no realistic way for collecting societies to redistribute the revenues from the license fees accurately and fairly to billions of rightsholders all over the world. The relevant collecting societies won’t attempt to contact all French rightsholders (when close to 70% of French citizens above 15 years old have a smartphone!), let alone all global rightsholders. In practice, the money will be split between the relevant collecting societies and the few rightsholders affiliated to those societies, who – as we say in France – won the “Jackpot”.
It will be worth following to see how this plays out. If France does follow through and a collection society actually goes after Google, it does make me wonder if Google might pull out the nuclear option yet again and shut down Google Images in France as it did with Google News in Spain, when the Spanish government passed a similar tax on news aggregation. 

Once again, like so many of these laws, this seems to not be so much about copyright as it is about taxing Google.
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