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Google faces abuse claims

News, 16 April 2015

BRUSSELS: Europe's competition commissioner has moved to take action against internet giant Google in regard to its search practices, while the music industry has accused its YouTube video-hosting service of abusing copyright law.

Google Shopping is the first target of commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who said the company was exploiting its dominant position in search to achieve higher rates of growth to the detriment of rival comparison shopping services.

"I am concerned that the company has given an unfair advantage to its own comparison shopping service, in breach of EU antitrust rules," she said. "Google now has the opportunity to convince the commission to the contrary."

And, in what the Financial Times said could become "a defining competition case of the internet era", she indicated that EU investigations were ongoing as regards other Google services.

The concerns are not restricted to Europe, however, as Vestager made clear US companies had also complained about Google's practices.

At the same time Vestager announced the opening of an investigation into Google's Android mobile platform amid allegations it forces handset makers into uncompetitive contracts if they want to use its software.

Earlier, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), the body representing the world's biggest record labels, said YouTube was one of several digital platforms that were abusing certain exemptions to copyright law.

Frances Moore, IFPI chief executive, identified "a flaw in the legislative environment" which prevents internet service providers and hosting companies from being liable for copyright infringement by users – so-called "safe harbours" – having only to remove infringing content when notified by a rights owner.

YouTube is "abusing the safe harbours in order to not pay for full licences," she argued, pointing out that it and other digital platforms enjoying these exemptions paid $641m in revenues to record companies in 2014, less than half that paid by subscription services like Spotify and Deezer.

While the IFPI wants the system reformed, removing the safe harbour exemption would place the copyright onus back on the digital platforms. But the sheer volume of material being uploaded to such sites – more than 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube alone every minute – means it is impractical, if not impossible, for any platform to check every piece of content.

Data sourced from Financial Times; additional content by Warc staff