YouTube brought in $15 billion in revenue last year – surely it can afford ‘Article 13’

YouTube’s parent company has just revealed details of its 2019 financial performance. We weren’t given the full breakdown on company profits, but the hefty revenue figure suggest the platform is in rude health. In fact, it looks like the platform is doing so well you have to wonder why it’s whingeing about the potential financial impacts of the EU’s copyright directive.

Want to know more about the copyright directive? Here’s a quick explainer (feel free to skip to the next section if you’re already familiar with the situation):

What is the copyright directive?

The new copyright directive was drafted by the European Parliament in order to stop media platforms and online aggregators earning money from other people’s work. It’s actually not creating anything new in the way of individual rights, but it’s trying to make sure that copyright is better protected for artists.

The directive contains a particularly controversial section (previously called Article 13 – and now actually Article 17) that outlines plans to push liability for copyright infringement onto online platforms.

How is it controversial to hold these companies accountable for what they’re publishing? Well, some people think it’s going to hurt smaller companies and individual creatives.

There is a disclaimer in the directive that says smaller companies – set up less than three years ago with turnovers of less than €10m – will be subject to much lighter obligations, although the specifics of this haven’t yet been hashed out.

In all likelihood smaller platforms will still have to pay out a bit more under the new rules. But you could argue (as I regularly do after a couple of pints) that all businesses should be paying their fair share when they use an individual’s work, as artists aren’t actually free sources of content for you to use willy-nilly.

However, in the spirit of rejecting all thing European the UK has decided that it won’t implement the new online copyright law after all. This was confirmed at the end of January by a UK minister – although it’s not yet clear how the wider internet will be affected if all EU countries decide to enforce the rules.

Related: Memes and GIFs won’t be affected by new copyright law

YouTube’s terrible filter plan

Now for the main issue: a lot of people have complained that the new directive could hurt the income of creative individuals, such as popular YouTube vloggers. Although the directive states that copyrighted material is allowed to be used in clips for review and parody purposes, creators are still worried that the consequences of the new rules could go a little deeper.

This is because YouTube has decided that the only way to tackle being held accountable for copyright is by creating a punitive filter. This filter would err on the side of caution and take down any content flagged as infringement by its users.

This, of course, could negatively affect individual creators, as it would make it a lot easier for content to be flagged and removed, even if that content is legally compliant. Cue people trying to take down rival vloggers or bad eggs on the internet holding people to ransom with the threat of flagging content.

The thing is, no-one is making YouTube create this potentially terrible filter. Statements from the European Parliament have confirmed that the directive does “not specify or list what tools, human resources or infrastructure may be needed to prevent unremunerated material appearing on the site”.

Despite this, YouTube seems determined to press on with the option of a punitive filtering tool. This is strangely unimaginative behaviour from a company with huge resources at its disposal – something that has now been confirmed by the latest financial reports.

Weirder still, YouTube and parent company Google are both excellent at filtering when it comes to handling your private data and building targeted ads for you. Strange that they can’t extend this filtering excellence when it comes to issues of copyright – when the filter would lose them some pocket money, rather than bring in more revenue.

It’s almost like there’s a (hugely lucrative) reason for the company to not upset the current status quo.

We’ve reached out to the company to ask if it would be willing to adopt another method of monitoring content and to clarify how it would handle any new costs associated with the directive.

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