Archive

Archive for the ‘News from the Goolag’ Category

What’s Good for the Goose: Europe for Creators Asks for Equal Time on YouTube for Their Pro-Article 13 Messages — Artist Rights Watch

March 19, 2019 Leave a comment

In case you had any doubts, YouTube’s antics in pushing its messaging on copyright reform in Europe should dispel the idea that it is a neutral platform.

When safe harbors for companies like YouTube were created in the US and in Europe 20 years ago, it was with the idea of providing a little latitude to reasonable people acting reasonably on the condition of being a neutral platform–for not creating an app for Room 101 where 2+2=5.

Not only is YouTube not a neutral platform, but YouTube and its parent Google are using YouTube to do the very thing with public discourse that Google is being prosecuted for with commercial transactions–using its monopoly position to crowd out competition.

This press release from Europe for Creators sums it up with this statement to YouTube: “You advocate freedom of expression but what we have seen is a media service dedicated to the promotion of its own views, based on false information and scare tactics.”

A cautionary tale for artist advocates around the world.

PRESS RELEASE

Brussels, 15 March 2019

Europe For Creators is asking YouTube for access to the same tools YT has used to promote its own messages on the EU’s copyright directive and article 13. The request is to allow Europe For Creators to message YouTubers and place banner ads on YouTube’s network, in the same way YT has done.

An open letter has been sent by Europe For Creators, a coalition of professional organisations of writers, musicians, producers, comedians, films makers coming from all over Europe and representing 12 million jobs across the European cultural and creative sectors. YouTube’s behaviour in using its own network and advertising has been the subject of much debate about the platform’s dominance.

Read the full letter below and on Article13.org.
An Open Letter to Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube

Dear Ms Wojcicki,

After almost three years’ worth of in-depth examinations and negotiations involving the three EU Institutions, 28 Member States, 751 MEPs, and thousands of experts and stakeholders, the European Parliament is about to take a formal decision on the directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.

The aim of one of the main provisions of this directive – Article 13 – is to ensure that platforms such as YouTube fairly compensate the creators whose works are made available through their services. In other words, to play fair and respect the creators who made YouTube what it is today.

We believe that the Copyright Directive will create a level playing field for the European Digital Single Market, with fair and equal rules for all.

There is ample public debate around this directive and your right to defend your position, as a concerned party, is not in question. Indeed, the positions you have taken in the media or through your own videos against Article 13 are well known and nourish the public debate.

However, since the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Sept. 12 to approve its version of the Copyright Directive, YouTube has been actively using its own services to influence public opinion, often with misleading or false information.

You have taken advantage of your considerable influence over 1.8 billion monthly users as the biggest media entity in the world to:

  • Circulate your own message to video makers and YouTubers
  • Create a uniquely formatted page, similar to SaveYourInternet, on Youtube.com
  • Create a portal comprising all videos defending your position on Article 13
  • Run banners, pop-ups and push notifications on YouTube defending your point of view and directing traffic to your unique YouTube.com webpage

This is unprecedented and raises ethical questions.

Moreover, YouTube enabled the propagation of misinformation – such as the claims that Article 13 would lead to the shutting down of YouTube channels, kill European startups, put an end to memes and gifs and harm freedom of speech. In other words: change the Internet as we know it. Such scaremongering deliberately ignores the special protections provided in the text and misleads public opinion.

It interferes with the democratic and balanced debate that all European citizens are entitled to. We believe it is totally unfair and unacceptable that your service, which dominates the online market, is exclusively used as a media service to promote your own commercial interests in a debate over European legislation.

You advocate freedom of expression but what we have seen is a media service dedicated to the promotion of its own views, based on false information and scare tactics.

We believe in pluralism and open, democratic debate. We believe our views also need to be voiced to your audience. That is what freedom of speech is all about.

This is why we are asking you to let us, over the week of March 18-24:

  • send a message to the same YouTubers so we can share with them our vision of article 13 – the one we promote on our website, www.article13.org.
  • publish banner ads on YouTube as you did for the “saveyourinternet” campaign

Acting as a media service requires responsibility and accountability to ensure democratic debate.

Best regards,

EUROPE FOR CREATORS

About Europe For Creators:
A gathering of professional organisations of writers, musicians, producers, comedians, films makers coming from all over Europe…. We represent some 12 million jobs across the European cultural and creative sectors. We are people, not bots. And we are protesting against the false divide that has been put between citizens and us.

About IMPALA:
IMPALA – IMPALA is the European association of independent music companies. Its mission is to grow the independent music sector, return more value to artists, promote cultural diversity and entrepreneurship, improve political access and modernise perceptions of the music sector.

 

 

Le Tatou’s Excellent Explainer on YouTube’s Role in Article 13 Lobbying–from @TatouProd

March 18, 2019 Leave a comment

“What no one tells you about Article 13”

As we’ve read in recent reporting from Europe, Google’s Susan Wojcicki has been twisting arms among their “YouTubers” to put out videos not only opposing Article 13, but also using the Google party line.

Now that’s starting to backfire because Ms Susan doesn’t really understand how this treating the artist like they’re stupid thing always does.  Think about it–can you imagine Lucian Grange telling Taylor Swift, “Yo, Tay Tay, I need some help on Universal’s latest antitrust review so you can help Universal look cool and make me a video that toes the corporate line?”

Ah, no.  That would never, never happen.  Not only would it never happen, it would probably backfire.

Enter Le Tatou, who are significant YouTube stars in French.  They produced a very thoughtful and articulate (face it–these guys are YouTube stars who actually know stuff, like how to actually research an issue and present it to the public–if you’re wondering why, try applying to a French university some time).

Their Article 13 explainer demonstrates how YouTube has tried to manipulate YouTubers and deceive the public.  The video is in French with English subtitles and you really should take the time to watch the whole thing.

It’s also really funny.

 

“Purchased Protest” Bombshell: Germany’s FAZ News Uncovers The Seamy Underbelly of Google’s Article 13 Lobbying

March 16, 2019 Comments off

 

 

The usual suspects got caught again.  And you can’t have the usual suspects without Keyser Söze.

 writing in the top German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has uncovered the financial link between YouTubers in the paid service of Google to “protest” in favor of the multinational monopolist’s interests in the European Copyright Directive (aka “Article 13”).

In his story filed today “Gekaufter Protest?” or “Purchased Protest?”, van Lijnden’s reporting has turned up what appears to be proof positive that Google’s interference lobbying has sunk to new depths of depravity (translation courtesy of Google Translate, courtesy of Google Books):

According to research by this newspaper, several German Youtubers have been offered money by an interest group that appears under the name “Create Refresh” to position themselves in videos against Article 13 of the copyright reform, which is particularly relevant for the video platform. “I am writing for financial support available to content creators who want to protest against Article 13. Be it a video, memes or graphics – we are open to suggestions, “says Mirko Drotschmann, who trades on Youtube as “mrwissen2go “and has about 900,000 subscribers.

Similar offers have been received by the Clixoom Science & Fiction channels (over 500,000 subscribers), Pietsmiet (more than 2.3 million subscribers) and Jana Riva (around 50,000 subscribers). The latter were promised €2,000 for a critical opinion on Article 13. All four emphasize the finding that they have not responded to the offer and have wondered very much about it, as such attempts to collect money would otherwise be almost non-existent and money would be offered only for the promotion of products.

Google’s interference lobbying should come as no surprise.  As MTP readers will recall, German Member of the European Parliament Helga Truepel was threatened with interference lobbying by Google’s lawyers during a trade mission to Silicon Valley:

helga google interfere

 

MTP readers will also recall the humiliating failure of the pro-Google lobbying effort to turn out any actual humans to protest in advance of prior votes.  I warned at the time not to underestimate Google’s ability to deliver protesters–one only need remember how the homes of Germans who opted out of Google Street View were mysteriously egged by “protesters” all in one night who also hung signs on their target homes stating “Google is Cool”.

The opposition to Article 13 is organizing a protest for March 23 and claims to have a number of cities in Europe targeted, mostly in Poland and Germany (two countries where Google has invested heavily in their academic missionary outposts for a decade or more).  The efforts may be aided by the general waive of protests about a host of social issues sweeping Europe, not to mention a large Brexit protest scheduled for March 23–coincidentally.  It may be possible to create the impression that one protest is about another topic altogether, particularly if the propagandist shows pictures of a protest in a wide shot that has no readable protest signs in frame.

Still, the logistics of getting protesters from one stronghold to a weaker outpost at a particular date and time was striking challenge given the geography.  Van Lijnden addresses how Google’s lobbyists rose to the challenge in the FAZ article:

[T]he protest is financially supported: Under the name of “EDRI” [the European Digital Rights lobby shop] numerous net political NGOs has offered…to bear the travel and hotel costs of people who want to lobby in personal talks with the deputies of the European Parliament. According to EDRI, a budget of €15,000 is available, two-thirds of which would be provided by the Open Society Foundation founded by George Soros and one third by the industry association “Copyright 4 Creativity”.  [MTP readers will have seen that bunch before back in 2015.]

The latter is also one of the supporters of “Create Refresh” and is led by Caroline De Cock, also managing director of the Brussels-based lobbying company “N-square”. Its clients include Google which as a parent company of Youtube would be hit hard by the reform. Such indirect lines from Silicon Valley to the aggravation and whipping of the protest can also be drawn elsewhere, such as the “Center for Democracy and Technology”, which is also listed as a supporter of “Create Refresh” and “Save your internet” and led by Nuala O’Connor, the former lawyer of Google subsidiary DoubleClick.

We wrote about the N-Square group back in 2015:

While Google itself is not a member of Copyright 4 Creativity, the organization is run by a long-time Brussels lobbyist whose firm represents Google, and even a cursory look at the Copyright 4 Creativity materials reveals some of the same rhetoric we have heard for years from the Google-funded anti-artist crowd.  This, of course, is how the astroturf game is played.

“Purchased Protest?” is extraordinarily brave reporting by FAZ given the level of hostility that Google has ginned up in Europe through its interference lobbying efforts rivaled only by Russian bot farmers and Cambridge Analytica–if not inspired by them.  Ahem.  Vlad would be proud.

Bots 14-2-19 Edited

This isn’t the first time that a major newspaper has caught Google and its YouTube subsidiary faking an Article 13 protest or stirring the contagion pot complete with bots and Russomania.  And of course David Lowery and Volker Rieck have done important work in exposing the rot.

Dj_qcYOW4AAfyRy.jpg-large

But it’s the first time that Google money has been linked to YouTube “creators” engaging in lobbying efforts to assist Google’s political goals, attacking Google’s political enemies and supporting Google’s political allies–all of which smacks of electioneering requiring compliance with Europe’s election transparency laws.

And of course there’s no one who knows more about where to find individuals likely to carry Google’s water, knowingly or unknowingly, than the one company in the world that knows what you’re thinking before you do.  Unbridled snooping by the pervy Google data scientists produces unimaginable benefits when that information is turned to political profit.

The first rate reporting in these bombshell revelations are all the more reason why the European law enforcement authorities need to open a criminal investigation into the whole mess.  As van Lijnden concludes:

[Big Tech’s attempt] to buy critical voices in the channel that is relevant to the debate highlights the manipulative methods that have fueled or even generated parts of the protest.

Can I get an “amen”?

When it Comes to DC Lobbying, Google Outspends Big Tech Cohort–and the Peoples Republic of China

January 24, 2019 Comments off

As Susan Crawford tells us:

I was brought up and trained in the Internet Age by people who really believed that nation states were on the verge of crumbling…and we could geek around it.  We could avoid it.  These people were irrelevant.

It’s rather stark when you see it.  We all know that Google is a government-level power and is enjoys a level of political influence on par with many countries, well ahead of its commercial rivals in the U.S.–and this doesn’t even count the tens of millions it spends buying academics and librarians or supporting the EFFs, Engines, R Streets and Fight for the Futures of the world.

chartoftheday_10393_lobbying_expenditure_of_tech_companies_n

Whether you take Big Tech as a group or individually, these companies–and especially Google–spend like they were countries.

Google’s lobbying spend compares favorably to South Korea’s spend in the U.S., which is the biggest foreign lobbyist according to Open Secrets:

south korea lobbying

And to the People’s Republic of China U.S. lobbying:

china lobbying 2017

For Article 13 comparison, Germany and France came in at the end of the pack:

germany lobbying 2017

Germany Lobbying Spend 2017 and 2018

 

france lobbying 2017

France Lobbying Spend 2017 and 2018

When you consider that all of the Big Tech lobbying spenders in the graph except Apple are also in the Internet Association and indirectly in the MIC Coalition, many things become clear.  It means that Michael Beckerman, the head of the Internet Association who apparently has some modeling aspirations looking very Zoolanderesque,  gets to buy nice things.  But then as a wise man once said, brown shoes don’t make it.

Michael Beckerman

 

@Europarl_EN Statement Explains Article 13 and Google’s Fake “Lobbying”

January 12, 2019 Comments off

This week the European Parliament issued a scathing rejection of Google and Facebook’s massive lobbying campaign against Members of the European Parliament over what’s often called “Article 13”, or the Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market.  Article 13 is the first meaningful attempt to reverse the European safe harbor income transfer and close the value gap.  

Europe’s Global Influence

Beyond its benefits inside the European Union, Article 13 is also a crucial step toward restoring creator rights outside Europe.  Passing this watershed legislation will be in important first step toward safe harbor reform around the world, hopefully as a positive influence on reforming the U.S. version commonly called the “DMCA” copyright infringement safe harbor. Congress may well pick up that DMCA safe harbor reform in this session.   

Another benefit to Article 13 is that it’s another step toward encouraging legislative bodies to continue closing Big Tech’s cherished loopholes in other areas of the law, such another U.S. loophole beloved by Big Tech that is commonly called “Section 230.”   Congress cut back Section 230 last session.

Section 230 not only allows Google to profit from a wide variety of non-controversial behavior, but also from human trafficking, illegal drugs and counterfeit goods.  Google’s Section 230 safe harbor was significantly rolled back with the Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act (“SESTA”) in the last Congress.  Google fought SESTA with by launching an “off the shelf” SOPA-style, faux apocalyptica, end-of-days campaign against the U.S. Congress to preserve their human trafficking profits and stop “SESTA”, but failed.

European Commission is Also Closing De Facto Loopholes

The European Parliament historic action on Article 13 likely was of particular concern to Google because the European Commission has been closing a de facto safe harbor that protected Google’s obscene commercial overreach.  The EC brought the first two of what may be many cases against Google for competition law violations with fines in the many billions of euros.  The most recent fine in those competition law cases came down days after the first of a series of votes on Article 13.  Personally, I feel that all these events must be read of a piece.

European Parliament Tells Us That Goliath Never Learns

Google’s response to all of them appears to me to also be of a piece—barrages of fake emails and robocalls to deceive MEPs into thinking there were actual constituents who supported safe harbors for multinational U.S. corporations that violate privacy and steal culture.  (If there were real constituent voices they were drowned out or irreparably tainted by Google’s fake lobbying.)

Of course, it must be said that Big Tech’s barrage of fakery was as much directed at artists as it was at elected officials.  The campaign against Article 13 is remarkable for how much it revealed that  Big tech is as out of step with cultural history in the countries where it does business as it is failing with honest advocacy.

The fakery has gotten so bad that the European Parliament found the need to release a “myths and facts” style question and answer document regarding Article 13.  Here’s a choice passage:

The draft directive has been the subject of intense campaigning. Indeed, some statistics inside the European Parliament show that MEPs have rarely or even never been subject to a similar degree of lobbying before (such as telephone calls, emails etc.). The companies to be most affected by the directive have multi-billion dollar yearly revenues (for example Google’s revenue for 2017 was $110 billion and Facebook’s was $40.7 billion).

Such wide-ranging campaigning generally does lead to impressive claims snowballing; there are claims that the draft directive risks “breaking the internet”, or “killing the internet”. Since the draft directive does not confer any new rights on creators, nor impose new obligations on internet platforms/news aggregators, such claims seem excessive.

There are numerous precedents of lobbying campaigns predicting catastrophic outcomes, which have never come true.

For example, telecom companies claimed phone bills would explode as a result of caps on roaming fees; the tobacco and restaurant lobbies claimed people would stop going to restaurants and bars as a result of the smoking ban in bars and restaurants; banks said they would have to stop lending to businesses and people, due to tougher laws on how they operated and the duty-free lobby even claimed that airports would close down as a result of the end of duty-free shopping in the single market. None of this happened.

The document comes down to this—the Parliament is not buying Google’s jive.  Let’s hope the U.K. Parliament and the U.S. Congress take note.

Europe Defends the Human Rights of Artists

For most of the 20th century, the world shared values that authors rights were to be respected and even cherished.  These values were passed into international laws that protected creator rights.  Authors rights are human rights and authors rights are memorialized in a host of human rights documents from the U.S. Constitution to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and well beyond.  

Those rights were largely defended and violators of those rights were reviled.  A country’s treatment of artists from writers to poets to musicians and composers, screenwriters and directors defined that society. Crackdowns were shameful events, from the Red Scare to the gulags, from Tiananmen Square to the Arab Spring.

But when profit from violating the rights of authors becomes too tempting, the siren call of greenbacks breaks down what you learned from parents, teachers, rabbis, priests or pastors or even the very secular culture under attack.  In the 1990s and to the present day, a group of commercial actors in the Internet space demanded that they be given a special mandate in which to operate—a Neverland of legislated “safe harbors” ostensibly to protect the sainted innovation.  

Largely based in the Silicon Valley protectorate and backed by venture capitalists, these folks wanted a kind of autonomous or near-autonomous zone where the human rights of authors could be abridged and outright violated, largely with impunity.  Why?  Make no mistake, they didn’t do it for “freedom,” exploration of new frontiers, innovation or substantial non infringing uses—they did it for the money.

In fact, taking an inverted page straight out of Tom Wolfe’s Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, violating the human rights of authors even became fashionable in the fast-buck, get big fast world of the dot bomb redshift of money, money, money.  Artists who expected their human rights would be at least tolerated by the anarcho-technocrats of the 99ers got a big surprise.  Imagine the hell-bent Kafka-esque spawn of Bill Jackson’s Youth of the Future and George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.  The mish mash elites of Creative Commons, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Free Software Foundation sprang up from their Palo Alto petrie dish to mau-mau both Hollywood and Silicon Valley.  They gave us a mantra straight out of Orwell’s Minitrue:  WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY and of course COPYRIGHT IS CENSORSHIP.

These first-generation Californian startup elites didn’t know Lawrence Ferlinghetti from Carol Doda or Sam Andrew from Neil Cassidy.  They didn’t know the Henry Miller’s Rosy Crucifixion series, but they knew all about the rights, preferences and privileges of the Series A.  They went to Silicon Valley for the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks—because that’s where the money was.

And thus began in 1998 one of the biggest income transfers in commercial history that continues to this day.  But after 20 years, the tech bros who wouldn’t grow up may find that the world has had enough of their hysteria and heartlessness and that spring cleaning time has come for them.

The Ethical Pool Future: Will Fans Cut the Cord to Big Streaming Services if Artists Leave?

November 30, 2018 Comments off

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied…

From Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen

I wrote up my take on “user-centric royalties” a few weeks ago in a post titled “Arithmetic on The Internet: The Ethical Pool Solution to Streaming Royalty Allocation.”  The post has been widely read in the artist community and stimulated conversation about the current model of royalty allocation by streaming services that artists like Sharky Laguana have led the debate on.  I argue that the current model results in the hyper-efficient market share distribution of streaming revenues that effectively bypass the independent artists who fans listen to on the subscription streaming services.

Hyper-efficient marketshare distributions can have unintended pernicious effects due to the impact on the per-stream rate.  If you have a big market share, you don’t care much about per-stream rates because you get minimum guarantees and probably non-recoupable “technology fees” that help protect your downside and defray your accounting costs.  (Particularly important to independent labels whose streaming accounting costs may exceed streaming revenue.)  If you are an independent or “niche” artist, the per-stream rate is everything because you won’t be getting advances or technology payments.

Crucially, that hyper-efficient distribution almost guarantees to a mathematical certainty that per-stream rates will decline over time if service revenue fails to increase at a rate that exceeds the increase in the total number of streamed recordings.  The Trichordist has documented that the per-stream rate has declined by 16% over the 2014-16 period–which happened at the same time as we are told that streaming accounts for over 50% of industry-wide recorded music revenues.  If streaming revenue declines on a per-stream basis while expanding to a larger share of over-all recorded music revenues, the negative effects on the per-stream rate will almost inevitably hurt independent artists, as well as genres like instrumental jazz and classical.

As we found in a recent reader poll, many fans–even many MTP readers–are unaware that an overwhelming share of their streaming service subscription revenue is paid for music they didn’t listen to (and performed by artists they don’t care for in some cases).  Assuming that MTP readers may be more aware of these inequities than the average fan, many if not most consumers may be in the dark about where their money actually goes, which may have an effect their buying decisions and a ripple effect through the market.

question 1

question 2

There’s little doubt that the status quo is unsustainable even though the transition from high to low-or-no margin goods may be irreversible.  Recently, Canadian artist and producer Danny Michel wrote a must-read op-ed for the current edition of the Vancouver Weekly that highlights the motivation behind the Ethical Pool.  Titled “The Expiration Date on Music”, Danny describes his own experience, which of course is echoed by a chorus of independent artists and songwriters around the world:

I’ve been a full-time musician for 25 years. It’s been nothing but hard work, but I love hard work. My songs bought my home, my studio, paid the bills and more. Through it all, the conversations backstage with other musicians have always been about music, family, guitars, friends, art, etc… But in 2018 that conversation changed. Everywhere I go musicians are quietly talking about one thing: how to survive. And I’ve never worried about it myself UNTIL 2018. What I can tell you is my album sales have held steady for the last decade until dropping by 95% this year due to music streaming services.

And therein lies the rub:  You cannot trade a high margin sale at a wholesale price of $5-$10 for a replacement with a wholesale price of a fraction of a fraction of a penny without an unrealistic corresponding exponential boost in activity.

The math is stacked.

Based on the Trichordist’s Streaming Price Bible, it takes roughly 1,600 streams on Spotify, 950 streams on Apple Music, or over 10,000 on YouTube to replace one physical or digital album that sells at a venue or retailer with $7 of net revenue to the artist.  (This revenue variation across services is one reason the TEA math doesn’t really work.)   Venue sales are incremental revenue–you’re already spending to market the show.  Due to streaming, venue sales have all but evaporated in the last few years at an increasing rate as Danny Michel observes.

The fan at the show is in direct contact with the artist in real time when the fan comes to a show the artist is already promoting.   If the fan leaves the show empty handed, it will probably be difficult to get that fan to remember to stream the new artist when they launch their service player.

Getting fans to stream the record usually requires additional effort if not expense–a key reason why it’s important at the show to get that fan’s email at least or some other way to get in touch with them outside of the music service.  As one astute independent label put it, “if the devil made me choose between selling 25 CDs at a show or getting 25 fans to sign up to an artist’s email list, I’d have to think about it for 5 minutes.”  The email signups are a hope for future revenue to make up a shortfall that will likely never be made up on streaming.

Absent getting that fan’s email, independent artists are largely at the mercy of playlist gatekeepers to the point that many are asking if they really want to continue to participate in the major streaming services.  As long as those services have little interest in allowing subscription rates to increase or pay royalties at a level that allow independent or niche genre artists and songwriters to sustain themselves, there’s less and less reason to participate.  And hyper-efficient market share distributions are already causing some artists to like cutting the cord with big services–the only question is how to get their core fans to follow them.

 

Google’s European Campaign Contributions on Article 13

August 24, 2018 Comments off

RITTER

They want what every first term administration wants…a second term.

From A Clear and Present Danger, written by Tom Clancy (novel), screenplay by Donald Stewart, Steven Saillian and John Milius.

MTP readers will recall that both the Times of London and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung have confirmed the efforts by Google to influence the vote on copyright reform in the European Union.  We called for that investigation on MTP and were mocked for doing so by the usual suspects.

Getting mocked by the usual suspects is how you know you’re onto something big, by the way.

But we owe a big thanks to the really stellar investigative work of Volker Rieck and David Lowery that exposed how Google uses astroturf front groups to “push its views” and for which it no doubt pays well.

Dj_qcYOW4AAfyRy.jpg-large

There is, of course, a political dimension to this exposé that has not been examined thoroughly yet.  It’s an important dimenstion because the Members of the European Parliament must stand for election next year, less than a year away.  And the Member of the European Parliament who certainly appears to be as close to Google as 1 is to 2 is the lone Pirate Party representative.

The Pirate Party is a creature of proportional representation, an interesting practice in Europe (and other places) that allows political parties with very small constitutencies to field candidates and sometimes get elected to legislative bodies such as the European Parliament.  The Pirate Party has one European Parliament representative elected from Germany, which is interesting because Google has also dropped a pile of influence-peddling cash in Germany according to the Google Transparency Project.

First, Google’s academic influence program in Europe has gone beyond funding existing academic institutions, as it does in the United States, to helping create entirely new institutes and think-tanks in key countries like Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In those countries, executives from Google’s lobbying operation have helped conceive research groups and covered most, or all, of their budgets for years after launch.

Google policy executives have acted as liaisons to steer their research priorities and host public events with policymakers.

For example, Google has paid at least €9 million to help set up the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society (HIIG) at Berlin’s Humboldt University. The new group launched in 2011, after German policymakers voiced growing concerns over Google’s accumulated power.

The Institute has so far published more than 240 scholarly papers on internet policy issues, many on issues of central importance to Google’s bottom line. HIIG also runs a Google-funded journal, with which several Google-funded scholars are affiliated, to publish such research.

The Institute’s reach extends beyond Germany, or even Europe. HIIG previously managed, and still participates, in a global Network of Internet and Society Research Centers [Silicon Valley’s answer to the Confucious Institutes] to coordinate internet policy scholarship. Many are in emerging markets where Google is trying to expand its footprint, such as India and Brazil.

So it must be said that when Google was caught with its hand in the cookie jar on Article 13, that astroturf effort must be viewed as part of a larger Google policy laundering operation that may include influencing elections.  Certainly in a post-Cambridge Analytica world, one cannot simply ignore these dots and all are worthy of investigation for compliance with Europe’s campaign finance laws if nothing else.

For a minority political party representative of one in need of a message in the face of an imminent election, it simply cannot be ignored that garnering the finanical support of Google and Facebook’s astroturf operation for a campaign that directly or indirectly benefits a candidate may be welcome.

Getting Silicon Valley’s billions focused on motiviating the electorate around a particular issue of benefit to such a multinational bloc of monopolists might help motivate voters and guide them to the “right” candidate.  As one of the usual suspects noted:

When the European Commission announced its plans to modernize EU copyright law two years ago, the public barely paid attention. This changed significantly in recent months.

Which was perhaps one of the electoral objects of the astroturf exercise.

Considering that political campaigns in Europe are typically of quite limited duration compared to the US (sometimes as short as 25 days before polling day), coming up with a an issue campaign that a political candidate–especially an incumbent–can leverage to increase their profile has got to be golden–particularly if that campaign may not rise to the level of a restricted political contribution or electioneering has got to be disclosed.

If that issue campaign can draw funding and support from U.S. based multinational corporations like Google and Facebook leveraging their user networks and advertising clout, all the better for a vulnerable candidate.

Because in the end, what every incumbent wants is another term.  The Pirate Party already faces declining relevance and may lose the one seat they have in the European Parliament elections in a few months time.  Especially if the the Pirate Party already struggles to field a winner.  Faced with such an existential threat, who knows what compromises may get made and who knows what in-kind donations may surface.

Undisclosed compromises and in-kind donations.

%d bloggers like this: