One of the most contentious legislative battles in recent EU history comes to a close this week. Proposals to reform the rules for copyright in Europe have seen countless letters, emails, tweets and insults exchanged. On the one side, there is Big Tech personified by Google. On the other side is a collection of creative types, publishers, producers and rights holders. On the face of it, this is a one-sided fight. As UK Music highlighted in an article in July, Google has a direct lobbying budget of €5 million per year. When figures for “indirect lobbying” through membership of associations, organisations and think tanks are added, UK Music says Google spends a further €25.5m. Their CEO, Michael Dugher said that “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”.
Google’s direct lobbying budget is undeniably one of the largest in Brussels for a single company and underlines the strength of the resources they can bring to the table. But the concept of “indirect lobbying” that Music UK used to criticise Google can just as easily be applied to the other side in the debate and it highlights how the battle for copyright is far bigger and perhaps not quite as unequal as has been portrayed.
Using a similar methodology to Music UK, New Europe has found that the pro-copyright reform side has mobilised around €29.7 million worth of direct and indirect lobbying in the past year. Whether it’s the film industry or booksellers, TV broadcasters or the music industry, each of them packs a punch that collectively is more than capable of equalling what Google brings to the table.
Big names like Universal Music, which alone spends just under a million euro a year on lobbying, have come together with associations like the European Publishers Council and the Motion Picture Association.
With all this spending you would expect there to be a sizable return for those who are writing the cheques. In this case, access to policymakers is just as important as financial might. When scrutinising the meetings of European Commissioners and senior Commission officials for the past six months, a significant imbalance appears on the topic of copyright however. Interestingly, of the thirty-seven meetings where copyright was discussed, nearly 90% of them were with representatives of one side of the debate. What may come as a surprise is that these meetings were with the pro-copyright reform side of the debate yet they passed by relatively unnoticed. Either Google’s side hasn’t been meeting with the European Commission, opting strategically to target the European Parliament, or they are very inefficient with spending their lobbying money.
Both sides have thrown significant time, energy and resources at the battle for copyright reform and both sides have had wins along the way. While the final outcome has yet to be fully determined, what is clear is that it has set a precedent for intensity and volume of campaigning that will be hard to beat.