Europe's new digital chief talks of Google copyright tax

Europe's incoming digital commissioner is threatening Google again, this time with a copyright levy if it takes European content for its own.

Günther Oettinger. Image: European Commission

Europe's incoming digital chief still has a lot of work ahead of him to deliver a single telecoms market across the whole of the continent , but his first priority appears to be taking on Google.

Günther Oettinger, the EU's energy commissioner who was recently sworn in as the replacement to EU digital chief Neelie Kroes, looks set to take on a more adversarial approach to Google than his predecessor, threatening to slug Google with a copyright levy.

Oettinger told German publication Handelsblatt that if Google makes use of European intellectual property, Europe can impose a levy on the company.

His comments follow a high-profile struggle between German publishers and Google over the search company displaying news snippets without compensating them for doing it.

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Earlier this month Google said it would stop displaying those snippets, and instead would limited results to a link and headline. However a consortium of publishers behind VG Media, backed by German publishing giant, Axel Springer, criticised the move as "blackmail". Last week VG Media said publishers were forced to give their consent for Google to publish those snippets without the compensation they would prefer.

As the Financial Times notes, Oettinger's comments are the latest barb in a series of criticisms levelled at Google ahead of him taking office as the European Commission's digital chief.

In his future role, Oettinger won't be responsible for EU competition policy, but he has been a vocal critical of Google's search antitrust settlement with the EU and may have more influence over negotiations during the next phase of negotiations . Previously, he's suggested that Google could be forced to display search results objectively and neutrally, the FT noted.

Outgoing competition chief Joaquín Almunia was unable to finalise a deal with Google, which fell apart this September following a four-year investigation into whether Google gave preference to its own services over rivals in key verticals. That job will be left to the new competition chief, former Danish finance minister Margrethe Vestager.

The FT notes that the other source of conflict that could emerge between the EU and Silicon Valley under Oettinger is pressure from European telcos, which want Brussels to put a leash on companies like Google and Facebook's WhatsApp for eating into their revenues.

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