Why Does Google Pay Protesters?

The weird thing about the scoop from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that Google pays protesters to help stop the copyright reform? It’s not that it’s a new level of astroturfing (Google has done similar things in the past). It’s not that the reporter Constantin van Lijnden was able to find the smoking gun (though if Google wants to play spy movie, it should step up its game). And it’s not that it uses a system of fronts to cover it up (though not well enough).

No, the weird thing is why Google bothers in the first place. As with GDPR, Google can have every hope of working around the rules. Or “coping with” in Silicon Valley management lingo. If the despised Article 13 makes it into law, Google can happily sign license agreements with the music collecting societies and (almost) all the music on Youtube will be legal. That is of course much cheaper than making deals with labels as services such as Spotify and Apple Music do (they don’t rely on user uploads). The profitable “value gap” remains, the pressure is rather on the licensed services to lower prices to stay in the race.

Also, Youtube will have nothing to fear in terms of responsibility for illegal uploads of such content as sports, movies or television shows. Its Content ID-system may have more holes than a Swiss cheese, but is put forward by the policy-makers as the example, the norm other content protection systems must live up to. So Youtube doesn’t have to change a thing, rather the new rules would be a vaccine against potentially damaging lawsuits under existing legislation.

So why is Google buying protesters in Europe rather than champagne in Mountain View? Is it because it thinks the deal can be made even better? Must be, of course it can have nothing to do with keeping appearances up, pretending the “open internet” (whatever that means) is in danger, or making sure copyright is always the problem with everything digital. That can’t be so. Google would never lie.