Music Industry Lawyer Calls For Criminal Investigation Over Article 13 Vote

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A high-profile defender of artists' rights is calling for a "full-blown criminal investigation" into what happened during the Article 13 'copyright filters' vote earlier this month. Lawyer Chris Castle, who has an impressive music industry track record with various labels and groups, says that Google backed an "attack" on the European Parliament "for the purpose of policy intimidation".

With YouTube now a major force when it comes to online music distribution, recording labels and artists are striving for a better deal.

While YouTube compensates labels for views of authorized content, the labels say the existence of unlicensed content uploaded by users means that the Google-owned video giant gains an unfair negotiating position.

In an effort to tighten the noose on YouTube and owners Google, the music industry lobbied hard for new EU legislation (Article 13) that would see user-uploaded content platforms compelled to install filters to detect infringing content before it gets made available to the public.

Earlier this month and after much heated debate, the wind was taken out of the music industry’s sails when the European Parliament said “no” to the Copyright Directive mandate.

The debate leading up to the vote was messy, with extremist claims on both sides doing little for the quality of the discussion, particularly on social media. As the vote neared, however, claims that somehow the campaign wasn’t being fought fairly came to the fore.

Two days before the vote, UK Music CEO Michael Dugher launched a scathing attack, describing Google as a “corporate vulture feeding off the creators and investors” while claiming the search giant had pumped €31 million into lobbying against the legislation.

“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 pedaled by its multi-million propaganda machine,” Dugher said.

“Instead of mounting a cynical campaign, motivated entirely out of its self-interested desire to protect its huge profits, Google should be making a positive contribution to those who create and invest in the music. MEPs should ignore the big money lobbying from big tech and back fair rewards for creators.”

Whether Google’s lobbying efforts amounted to unfair practice will be for history to decide but if music industry veteran Chris Castle has his way, no stone should be left unturned in establishing the facts.

Castle is probably best known online for editing the MusicTechPolicy blog but he’s also the founder of his own law firm and has held lofty positions at Sony and A&M. This busy industry man has little time for Google and its practices.

“[T]here have been incredible and probably illegal uses of the Internet to overwhelm elected officials with faux communications that reek of Google-style misinformation and central planning in the hive mind of the Googleplex,” he writes.

“We saw this again with the Article 13 vote in Europe last week with what clearly seems to be a Google-backed attack on the European Parliament for the purpose of policy intimidation.

“That’s right – an American-based multinational corporation is trying to intimidate the very same European government that is currently investigating them for anticompetitive behavior and is staring down a multi-billion dollar fine. Vindictive much?”

Last week the EU Commission did indeed fine Google €4.34 billion regarding the use of Android mobile devices to strengthen dominance of its search engine (a matter it reportedly tried to settle), but what about this attack on the EU Parliament?

Castle doesn’t go into much detail on the precise mechanics of what Google is supposed to have done but he describes the company as engineering “DDOS-type stunts capitalizing on what seems to be the element of surprise.”

This appears to be a reference to the numerous automated web-based forms that were made available online by various organizations, which enabled the public to make their voices heard by the decision makers about to tackle Article 13.

The forms were used, apparently a lot, to send messages to MEPs but whether this was simply a passionate and genuine response or more cynical organized chaos will be a matter for the parties to argue over.

In the meantime, Castle strongly feels there is a case to answer. The lawyer believes that Google is using its dominant position online to gain an unfair advantage in what should be a democratic process.

“[T]he most important thing for the European Commission to take into account is that a company that is the target of multiple investigations is using the very market place monopoly that caused the competition investigations to intimidate the European government into bending to its will on Article 13,” he writes.

“The European Commission needs to launch a full-blown criminal investigation into exactly what happened on Article 13, particularly since there is another vote on the same subject coming in September. Properly authorized law enforcement acting swiftly can set sufficient digital snares to track the next attack which surely is coming while they forensically try to figure out what happened.”

It remains to be seen whether these strong words from Chris Castle and those who share his sentiments will have any effect on the ground but the fact that these accusations are now being made openly is likely to throw more fuel on an already super-heated debate.

Finally, it’s perhaps worth noting that the companies and groups in the image below, which together claim to “represent 4.5% of EU GDP and 12 million European jobs” (and were in favor of Article 13), were apparently outgunned by Google.

Or, perhaps they were simply outgunned by people who just didn’t like the idea of Article 13? Only a couple of months left for round two – it could be a bumpy ride.

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