Google Becomes an Adviser to New Zealand about Copyright

August 16, 2018

We learned about a controversial meeting in New Zealand from an article at Stuff provocatively titled, “Google and Rights Holders Battle Over Copyright Reform.” Writer Tom Pullar-Strecker reports that in late June, Google lobbyist Kent Walker met with New Zealand Commerce Minister Kris Faafoi to discuss reform of that nation’s copyright laws. Apparently, Google was not sure search engines like theirs quite comply with existing law—so he offered suggestions on modifying the law. To be fair, that was an action already under consideration, but Google had to add its perspective to the mix. Naturally, Walker’s arguments must go beyond the well-being of his company, so the “more liberal” approach is being billed as key to New Zealand’s tech industry, particularly in AI. Others are not so certain; we learned:

Paula Browning, chief executive of interest group Copyright Licensing NZ, said one of the benefits of the existing law and the certainty it provided was “we don’t go to court every five minutes. The idea we would slip that on its head and be burdening the court in order to make law doesn’t sit very well with me,” she said. Browning also rejected the suggestion that copyright laws were holding back innovation. “There is an awful lot of business happening in New Zealand involving tech startups that suggest the law is not broken. We have got 28,000 tech companies under the Act we have got, so it doesn’t seem to be stopping us doing fabulous things.” There were only impediments to machine learning if people wanted to use other people’s information, she said. “If you are looking at companies that are doing AI, they are using data that is theirs. “If you want to have a ‘data grab of other people stuff’ to use for your business then, okay, maybe there are things in the way of you doing that.”

The official has a point. The article goes on to note Walker brought up Content ID (used by Google-owned YouTube), suggesting such a measure could be worked into the new law. (We’re told the EU is also considering the technology.) Notes on the meeting were taken and shared by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE). Browning expressed concern about upcoming decisions made “behind closed doors,” but believes the MBIE is working to ensure all stakeholders, large and small, have a say in that country’s copyright reform process. Meanwhile, we’re told, Walker is now senior VP of global affairs at Google; quell surprise.

Cynthia Murrell, August 16, 2018

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