Google has spent more than €31 million ($36 million) on lobbying the European Parliament against changes to copyright law, claims umbrella organization UK Music.
The figures have been compiled from the European Union's Lobbying Transparency Register, which records that in 2016 Google directly spent €5.5 million ($6.5 million) to try and influence policy decisions through at least eight consultancy firms. Numbered among them is Washington-based McLarty Associates, Belgium-based MUST & Partners and Dublin head quartered MKC Communications.
Google also indirectly lobbied Brussels via its membership of 24 other organisations, including the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA) and OpenForum Europe, according to the register.
UK Music, headed by Michael Dugher, calculates that the total lobbying spend of all 24 member organizations is more than €25 million ($29 million).
The EU register does not report how much Google spent on direct lobbying in 2017, nor the first half of this year, but does state that there are 14 Google staff working on European Union policy, three of whom are accredited with access to the European Parliament's premises. Google, which owns YouTube, did not respond to requests to comment.
The reason the California-based company is spending millions on lobbying in Europe is the EU's long-promised overhaul of copyright law as part of its Digital Single Market strategy. Since outlining its proposals for a revised copyright framework in September 2016, intense lobbying has been taking place from both the creative and tech sectors.
Earlier this month, the European Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee passed the "Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market," which would force user generated content services like YouTube to obtain music licences, effectively ending safe harbour provisions in Europe and placing the platform on equal terms with streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify.
Under the proposed laws, YouTube would also be required to introduce automatic content recognition systems to block copyright infringing works and set up "easy redress" systems for works that are mistakenly taken down. Critics of the reforms say they will restrict freedoms online and could put an end to memes, remixes and other user-generated content.
Members of the European Parliament will meet in Strasbourg on July 5 to hold a next stage Plenary vote on the directive.
"These EU copyright changes are aimed at ending an injustice that has seen Google's YouTube and other big tech firms ripping off creators for far too long," said UK Music's Dugher ahead of what's been described as a ‘must win' vote for the creative and cultural industries.
Slamming Google for "behaving like a corporate vulture feeding off the creators and investors who generate the music content shared by hundreds of millions," he said the company's huge lobbying spend was "motivated entirely out of its self-interested desire to protect its huge profits."
"These new figures expose the fact that Google is acting like a monolithic mega-corp trying to submerge the truth under a tsunami of misinformation and scare stories pedalled by its multi-million propaganda machine," said Dugher, urging MEPs to ignore "big money lobbying from big tech and back fair rewards for creators."
To date, more than 30,000 songwriters, artists and creators have signed a petition backing the reforms. Last week also saw Independent Music Companies Association IMPALA issue a statement to all European Parliament members calling for their support, signed by over 80 music and creative industry representatives, including all three major labels, IFPI, AIM, Featured Artists Coalition and PRS for Music.
Meanwhile, Geoff Taylor, chief executive of labels trade body BPI, has today (July 3) published a blog post similarly criticizing the US tech lobby for trying to "whip up an alarmist campaign... disingenuously crying "censorship."
"These baseless scare tactics deserve to fail. It isn't censorship to allow artists the right to choose to be paid for their work. The right to an income provides the basic artistic freedom for musicians to be what they have always been - rebels and revolutionaries, entrepreneurs, counter-cultural campaigners, our conscience and our inspiration," says Taylor, writing on the BPI website.
"Maybe it is time for the tech companies just to say what they mean: “we prefer to make billions of dollars out of music and other content without paying the people who make it,” he goes on to say, calling on MEPs to "allow creativity and technology to flourish together, based on freely negotiated, undistorted licence deals."