Google Says E.U. Copyright Plans Will Kill Citizens' Online News Access

Big publishers want new sources of revenue. But trying to force license fees for linking will backfire.


Google and European Union
Omar Marques/ZUMA Press/Newscom

In a warning to European Union leaders of what might happen if a controversial "link tax" is implemented, Google has templated what European news consumers will see if when they search for a news story under the new rule: essentially a bunch of blank pages with publication names, but no preview content, headlines, or descriptive text.

This could potentially be what Google does with its search function in response to Article 11 of the European Copyright Directive, a massive regulatory proposal currently being hammered out that could have disastrous implications for online content sharing.

Article 11 would require those who link back to news coverage with "snippets" or excerpts of the content to get permission from the linked media sites, which would potentially require payment of a fee. This is being presented as a way of protecting journalists and publishers from wholesale copyright theft by republishers.

But stopping sneaky online thieves from mass republishing other peoples' content is not what Article 11 actually does. It's clearly and obviously an attempt by big publishers to get their hands on money raked in by major internet directories like Google. In December, Google's Vice President of News Richard Gringas noted that Article 11 is actually targeting parts of online news services that often don't generate revenue for them. In the end, this could put search engines like Google in the position of deciding who does and not get indexed. That's possibly the actual point. Gringas notes:

Effectively, companies like Google will be put in the position of picking winners and losers. Online services, some of which generate no revenue (for instance, Google News) would have to make choices about which publishers they'd do deals with. Presently, more than 80,000 news publishers around the world can show up in Google News, but Article 11 would sharply reduce that number. And this is not just about Google, it's unlikely any business will be able to license every single news publisher in the European Union, especially given the very broad definition being proposed.

This would mostly benefit larger players. One analysis has forecast that in Germany, small publishers would receive less than 1 percent of the revenue generated by a so-called ancillary copyright—whereas the largest publishing group alone would receive 64 percent. Smaller newsrooms and overall online news diversity will be impacted as a result.

Just as Europe's extremely expansive online privacy laws have made it very hard for small online tech platforms to compete with major players like Facebook and Google, Article 11 seems designed to make sure that the big publishers are able to take precedence and attention away from smaller publishers.

And there's no opt-out process for small publishers (which is how Google wants to solve the problem). They can't just put up some sort of Creative Commons-style disclaimer allowing Google or other aggregators to simply share. Google has to get a license for each publisher. It's very obvious why. Otherwise, all those media outlets who weren't trying to demand money out of Google would be able to continue to compete for eyeballs by simply giving affirmative consent, defeating the whole game.

When Spain introduced a link tax years ago, they actually required that every publisher charge some sort of payment. In response, Google shut down its news aggregation service in Spain. Google's absence reduced online readership of many Spanish news sites, as well as their advertising revenues. (Techdirt explores the studies here).

It's tempting to see free online news sharing as the villain that's costing the industry jobs (BuzzFeed has laid off several talented reporters today), but the data shows that this sort of online linking actually helps readers connect with stories. Article 11 is really about big publishers on a hunt for new revenue sources as they realize they're never going to regain dominance over the advertising marketplace.

Google might not actually "blank out" its news search function for European consumers, but it seems clear that if Article 11 moves forward, news consumers in Europe will lose access to a lot of information. And that suits certain people just fine, as long as they're the ones who come out on top.

But that's assuming it does actually go forward. Article 11 (and the equally controversial Article 13, which demands that all online platforms introduce incredibly expensive automated content filtering tools to stop copyright violations) was passed by the European Union in September. But as Cory Doctorow notes, the long process of getting everything fully approved by member states has gotten bogged down in delays and its future is unclear.

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  1. I remember when this pay-for-the-preview idea was announced years ago. I didn’t realize publishers couldn’t even opt out, but had to actually issue a license.

    What will they do to newsstands, where you can see the magazine and newspaper front headlines? Are newsstands going to have to get licenses too?

    Government never ceases to amaze me, and that itself amazes me. I ought to expect governments to continually outdo themselves, but I somehow continue to be surprised.

  2. I am confused. When I go to google news, I see headlines sorted by topic with links back to the article.

    Who wouldn’t want to be included in that list?

    1. That is the point of this legislation. Remember that whenever the EU makes a law supposedly protecting the market from exploitation, there is almost ALWAYS a big European company (Aerobus, Mercedes, Audi, Seimens, etc) who stands to win big- usually at the expense of smaller companies within the EU.

      The point of this legislation is to FORCE Google to get a license from every single “news” publisher out there. Since google cannot feasibly do so, they will only contract with the publishers that represent the most news. They will have to pay those news companies a small fee for each link, and all the other small publishers will be left off the list.

      1. It is a Win-Win for the publisher. Not only do they drive out from this listing any disruptive smaller competitors that might scoop them, but it also gets them some money from Google.

    2. Right, couldn’t the directory just refuse to list anyone who charges a fee?

      1. No because the proposed rule requires the directory to get affirmative consent. The implied consent of ‘you didn’t charge me a fee’ is insufficient. The real penalty is not the size of the fee but the work necessary to chase down and enter into contract with every possible content provider. Even if you’re able to negotiate zero-dollar contracts, the effort will force you to limit yourself to the largest providers.

        The larger providers know this, of course, and as the comment above points out are lobbying for the proposed rule because it adds another anti-competitive layer to their business.

  3. Great idea. Remove Google from the EU completely.
    Seriously, Alphabet should just start blocking access from these idiot places, and just put up a banner page saying “until you vote idiots out of office, your use of Google has been declared illegal. Vote for internet freedom in the next election.”

    1. Why are we linking to websites in all these shithole countries?

  4. EU says “Funny how that works, is it not?”

  5. Yet Brexit is the worst thing ever. Who would not want to be under the jurisdiction of these yahoos?

  6. The EU/Germany has really done a much better job than Hitler at accomplishing his goal.
    – conquer Europe
    – import Muslims to drive out the Jews
    – now, deny subjects all acces to news not filtered through propaganda ministry

  7. It’s tempting to see free online news sharing as the villain that’s costing the industry jobs (BuzzFeed has laid off several talented reporters today)

    Then they should have no trouble finding new jobs.

  8. I essentially started three weeks past and that i makes $385 benefit $135 to $a hundred and fifty consistently simply by working at the internet from domestic. I made ina long term! “a great deal obliged to you for giving American explicit this remarkable opportunity to earn more money from domestic. This in addition coins has adjusted my lifestyles in such quite a few manners by which, supply you!”. go to this website online domestic media tech tab for extra element thank you……

  9. Who the hell still uses google?
    Duckduckgo is a much better search engine, and there are others out there as well.

  10. Start working at home with Google. It’s the most-financially rewarding I’ve ever done. On tuesday I got a gorgeous BMW after having earned $8699 this last month. I actually started five months/ago and practically straight away was bringin in at least $96, per-hour. visit this site right here…..

  11. “Buzzfeed has laid off several talented reporters today.”

    Fake news. Buzzfeed has never had several talented reporters.

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