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Europe Is About To Create A Link Tax: Time To Speak Out Against It

from the speak-up dept

We’ve written plenty of times about ridiculous European plans to create a so-called “snippet tax” which is more officially referred to as “ancillary rights” (and is really just about creating a tax on Google). The basic concept is that some old school newspapers are so lazy and have so failed to adapt to the internet — and so want to blame Google for their own failures — that they want to tax any aggregator (e.g., Google) that links to their works with a snippet, that doesn’t pay for the privilege of sending those publishers traffic. As you may remember, Germany has been pushing for such a thing for many, many years, and Austria has been exploring it as well. But perhaps the most attention grabbing move was the one in Spain, which not only included a snippet tax, but made it mandatory. That is, even if you wanted Google News to link to you for free, you couldn’t get that. In response, Google took the nuclear option and shut down Google News in Spain. A study showed that this law has actually done much to harm Spanish publishers, but the EU pushes on, ridiculously.

As discussed a year ago, some in the EU Commission are all for creating an EU-wide snippet tax, and as ridiculous and counterproductive as that is, the Commission is about to make a decision on it, and the public consultation on the issue is about to close (it ends tomorrow). Thankfully, many, many different groups have set up nice and easy systems to understand and respond to the consultation — which you should do. Here are just a few options:

There’s also a good detailed discussion of why this snippet tax is the wrong solution from European copyright lawyer Remy Chavannes. Here’s just a… um… snippet (that I didn’t pay for):

In fact, there is precious little indication that the challenges currently being faced by press publishers are due to the lack of sufficiently broad intellectual property rights. And if insufficient IP rights are not a significant part of the problem, increasing IP rights is unlikely to be a significant part of the solution. At a recent conference in Amsterdam, speakers from publishers, academia, politics, civil society and the internet sector were in near-total agreement that a neighbouring right for publishers would solve nothing at best. It would seem more fruitful to investigate other ways in which the position and prospects of publishers of quality journalism can be increased, e.g. via subsidies, tax facilities, the partial repurposing of public broadcasting funds, or other measures that reflect the significant value to a democratic society of having a vigorous, free and independent press.

Implementation of a neighbouring right would bring significant uncertainty, costs and risks, not just to authors and publishers, but also to the eclectic group of platforms, intermediaries and other service providers that play a role in facilitating the publication, discovery and consumption of press content. Larger, existing broad-based platforms will be incentivised to reduce or remove service features that might trigger the new neighbouring right. New entrants are likely to be discouraged, particularly new entrants who want specifically to serve the market for finding and consuming press content. Depending on the scope of any neighbouring right, moreover, it could also negatively impact providers of social networks as well as providers of access, caching and hosting services. Increasing costs, complexity and uncertainty for such a broad category of service providers threatens the free flow of information and investment in ? and availability of ? innovative digital services, as well as the commercial prospects for publishers and authors.

Good stuff, and I urge you to read the whole thing — and to respond to the consultation before the EU Commission destroys the link.

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Comments on “Europe Is About To Create A Link Tax: Time To Speak Out Against It”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

As discussed a year ago, some in the EU Commission are all for creating an EU-wide snippet tax,

…and by all appearances, the EU is on the verge of becoming significantly smaller as multiple nations are looking to leave it in the near future, and at least one has a pretty good chance of doing so successfully. So this may not be as big of a problem as it sounds at first.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

If you think the people who are currently pushing for the UK to leave the EU (often based on exaggerations and fabrications, and without a coherent post-exit plan) wouldn’t be the sort of people who’d push for this kind of ruling, you’re sadly mistaken. Then, you’d just have a bigger problem – instead of one commission that needs to be convinced of their folly, you have numerous bodies, all driven by the idea of control and sovereignty above common sense and logic. Most likely with a dropping economy which would lead them to attempt idiotic crap like this to “protect” their failing industries.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Perhaps it might be time to stop trying to bend IP into a catch-all fix for all of the problems they claim are destroying them.

Their own inaction has lead them to where they are, and now they demand that the government cut the achilles tendons of others in the race to make it fair.

They claim x harms them, then x goes away and they suffer actual harm… then try to recast it as a punishment.
They see the harms hitting others in their industries but somehow are convinced their model is different enough to not suffer the same flaws & harmful outcome.

There is not a viable magic wand that will magically empty Google’s pockets into theirs. Google can and will take their ball and walk away, and the harm will be actual rather than imagined.

Anonymous Coward says:

Actually I think it's a great idea.

If Google had a persistent domain based RBL feature that customers could configure, I’d have already blacklisted most of these players from my search years ago.

So charge Google. Please! I am sick of seeing your poser content SEO’d to the front page. Making them pay, will perhaps push them over the hump and they will finally acknowledge that you suck so bad your propagandists tripe should never have been crawled to begin with.

The other likely outcome is that all your content will get screen scraped, filtered for adverts, and dumped to distributed content networks. Yay! Internet.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Actually I think it's a great idea.

“So charge Google. Please! I am sick of seeing your poser content SEO’d to the front page.”

How about you stop whining and stop using Google, rather than trying to force them to display only what you want? They’ll change their algorithms pretty quick if people agree with you and you all start using a competitor you find more agreeable, and they won’t care about what you think anyway if you’re in a minority. Why people insist on frequenting services they actively hate is beyond me.

The Wanderer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Actually I think it's a great idea.

I don’t think the “you” in the part you quoted was a reference to Google; I think he was talking to the people who are wanting to be paid for being indexed.

That is, if they charge Google for being indexed, then maybe Google will decide that they’re unworthy of being indexed, and the poster won’t have to see their (IHO unworthy) content when he searches Google for something.

That’s why he mentions a “domain-based RBL feature” – he wants to be able to blacklist particular domains from the Google search results which he sees, not because he doesn’t like Google, but because he doesn’t like those sites (and will never follow links to them, so they’re useless results to him).

Anonymous Coward says:

Is there anything in an EU news paper that is not and will not be posted elsewhere outside the EU?

If not then let them have their tax and also let them suffer the consequences of NO linkage.

From what I have read on EU newspapers on line there would only be an improvement to the Web if they would disappear and be replaced with something better.

aidian says:

Re: Please don't use that term...

poor legacy newspapers

I hate the term ‘legacy’ when it’s used as a sort of stealth pejorative. Calling anything that’s been around for longer than Uber a ‘legacy’ whatever is the sort of thing MBAs do. Usually when they’re getting ready to try and rob you.

Some day some business scumbag is going to refer to me as a legacy cost. Hopefully I’ll have enough cash handy to make bail, because I guarantee I’ll break his or her nose.

There are plenty of other news sources that have adapted and will fill the space just fine if these large legacy papers disappear.

Fill the column inches/pixels, sure. Actually do the reporting, no. To do real reporting — time consuming, expensive reporting — is the problem. I can personally write as many words as my local paper does all by myself. But most of them will be me spouting off about the news reported by the people at the paper.

And there is no such thing as a ‘large’ news organization anymore. The Orlando Sentinel covered this week’s massacre with about 1/3rd as many staff as they had 10-15 years ago. Some of that missing two-thirds was surely fat. Lots of it was wasn’t.

The news operation I work for currently has one person covering five small town governments. My region is not notably corrupt, but I guarantee you the citizens of at several of those towns are currently being robbed and wronged by their public officials, and we don’t have the resources to uncover it.

None of that means a link tax is anything but a stupid idea. What a dumb move.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Please don't use that term...

“I hate the term ‘legacy’ when it’s used as a sort of stealth pejorative.”

Which term would you prefer when referring to companies that fight progress in this way? The ones that refuse to adjust to reality just because something used to be different 20 years ago, and then attack those who do adapt?

“Some day some business scumbag is going to refer to me as a legacy cost. Hopefully I’ll have enough cash handy to make bail, because I guarantee I’ll break his or her nose.”

If your immediate reaction to business terminology is physical violence, I don’t think they’ll miss you too much when they fire and sue you.

“Fill the column inches/pixels, sure. Actually do the reporting, no. To do real reporting — time consuming, expensive reporting — is the problem.”

We wouldn’t be having this conversation if most of the “legacy” companies still actually did that. The rot set in a long time ago, and attacking people who link or aggregate content is never going to fix that. The problem is the management who don’t value such things and would prefer to republish AP feeds or celebrity gossip instead – and the audience who generates more revenue for those things than real reporting.

“None of that means a link tax is anything but a stupid idea. What a dumb move.”

So, other that physically attacking people for using the wrong word and getting yourself jailed, what’s your solution?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Please don't use that term...

“The rot set in a long time ago”

Yes. The decline of newspaper began before the internet became a realistic place to get news, but the newspaper industry stubbornly refuses to see that fact. The internet is not killing newspapers, the newspapers were already dying. The internet was just an escape hatch for readers who wanted to actually get news.

What’s killing the newspaper business is the extreme amount of consolidation (which began in earnest before the internet was a factor) under large media companies. That consolidation resulted in a serious and dramatic decline in the quality of reporting.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, I imagine they’re thinking that it’s a win-win for them, and a lose-lose for Google. Either Google pays out for the free traffic and advertising their service provides, or they pull the service and the morons pushing the law get to use that as ‘evidence’ of how Google has a ‘monopoly position in the search business’ and needs to be regulated/fined to ‘even the playing field for other search options’.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Hmm, schadenfreude...

While shooting down the idiocy that is a ‘Snippet/Google Tax’ would obviously be the best outcome, I’m not quite sure which alternative I would prefer if the tax is passed for maximum popcorn enjoyment.

If they make the tax mandatory, such that it’s not possible for sites to opt-out of charging then Google can pull the service entirely rather than pay, much like they did in Spain.

If they don’t make it mandatory then Google simply drops the snippets entirely for anyone that demands that they pay, and those that aren’t so short-sighted get a boost to their visibility in the rankings.

Either way the greedy fools are screaming, and much enjoyment shall be had.

UniKyrn (profile) says:

Or, alternately, let the entire EU figure out the same lesson Spain and Germany did.

“You don’t like us advertising your publication for free? Fine, we’ll stop. Oh? Your readership/linkrate just dropped into the floor? Ok, YOU PAY US for every link we make back to you now, or watch your smarter competitors buy what’s left of you for a penny on the dollar at your bankruptcy sale.”

An entire continent wants to become irrelevant?

Let them …

Anonymous Coward says:

That’s certainly 1 way to regulate the internet. Force a tax on all companies that refuse to only do what they are told to do. of course waive said tax if they are willing to do what they are told.

I am quite certain that’s why they are doing this to force google to comply with their orders not just to help out the stranded newspaper whales.

aidian says:

Sure snippets benefit Google and cost newsrooms....

…that doesn’t mean taxing headlines and links will help.

Google and similar aggregators run a headline and a snippet with a link. Lots of readers don’t need anything more than that to get what they need from the story, so they never visit the news operation that actually reported the story.

If you’re a local news operation this hurts because you’ve got a finite potential audience — people from outside your region aren’t going to be regular readers.

But the thing is even if Google and every other search engine and aggregator disappeared tomorrow it wouldn’t cause significant additional traffic.

Most people getting those headlines via Google News or whatever aren’t local readers anyway. And if Google doesn’t excerpt and link to you, your competition and news operations in other regions are just going to rewrite the story themselves and not link to your report (or bury the link).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Sure snippets benefit Google and cost newsrooms....

Google and similar aggregators run a headline and a snippet with a link. Lots of readers don’t need anything more than that to get what they need from the story, so they never visit the news operation that actually reported the story.

If the headline and a short snippet of text is enough to replace the entire article such that people don’t feel the need to read the whole thing, then they either need to get better writers or better readers, because someone is doing it wrong.

It’s neither Google’s fault nor their problem if the readers are so shallow that they don’t care about finding out the details behind a story, and/or the article covering it is comprised mostly of empty padding with only a small amount of text actually relevant.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Sure snippets benefit Google and cost newsrooms....

“Lots of readers don’t need anything more than that to get what they need from the story, so they never visit the news operation that actually reported the story.”

These are the exact same people who read a headline in the display newspaper and are satisfied enough that they don’t buy the paper.

In other words, these are people who aren’t really into reading the news and therefore won’t magically turn into customers regardless of whether or not there are snippets.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tired of All These Luddites, EU, Et Al.

As with all other forms of extortion, refuse to play the game. The easiest way to do with governments is to leave the threatening country – or bloc of countries.

Sacrifice those hostages that can’t be rescued without payment, i.e., walk away from the EU offices, taking as much valuta as can be rescued and terminate all employees unwilling to relocate beyond EU jurisdictions.

Never spider the offending newspapers again – sentence them to Internet death. Bing, Yahoo!, Duck Duck Go…not all of these together can rescue a patient ignored by Google.

Once clear of meaningful legal coercion by the EU, Google does whatever it wants and ignores complaints to the fullest possible, legal degree. If complaints must be addressed, and a cessation of spidering and listing suffices to resolve the issue, block ’em and let ’em shrivel in the darkness up to and including countries. If that doesn’t suffice and more relocation serves – move again, killing employment, commerce, taxes, etc. in the offending demesne.

Operationally, Google is an extra-national entity. Don’t love everything they’ve ever done, but in this case, there’s certain extremely valuable “fuck you and the horse you rode in on” precedents that need a-settin’ for the EU and anybody else paying attention.

Lets see what happens when a few more countries find themselves to have been deemed totally irrelevant, non-existent even, on the Internet thanks to the lobbying efforts of a small number of in-country groups following VERY marginal and totally outmoded business models.

synonymous howard says:

hit google where it hurts

Seeing as google pay next to no tax throughout the world, evading where ever possible, this will really burden them. The ignorance of this fact aptly displays the ignorance of the old media. How can news organisations be so uninformed. Unless of course by pointing this out they are exposing them selves to investigation and criticism.

William H. Taft says:

How can any self-respecting European

actually sit and condescendingly poke fun at US governance? If you had any self-awareness about your own ludicrous predicament you’d die in your own god-damned shame.

What will it take for citizens to put an end to this madness from politicians? I really hope my British family and friends vote to leave the EU. Send a shot over the bow. Let them know that laws, policies, and regulations are not a one-size-fits-all for every country.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: How can any self-respecting European

“How can any self-respecting European actually sit and condescendingly poke fun at US governance?”

Easily. My pointing out ridiculous stuff that’s happening in the US doesn’t mean I’m not aware of shenanigans at home. I can poke fun at both equally. Plus, whatever random crap goes on in the US tends to affect the rest of the world so it’s still a form of self-preservation.

“I really hope my British family and friends vote to leave the EU.”

…and then what? I hear a lot of xenophobia, rambling about control and claims of how we’re better of with complete autonomy, usually coupled with fabrication and exaggeration. I hear vague unsupported statements of “savings”, which are usually suspect (for example, most of the people claiming the NHS will be better off are people who not long ago were calling for it to be dismantled and sold off).

What I don’t hear is a real plan for the future, how the UK will cope with the inevitable collapse of the economy (we’ve already lost billions just because the vote is coming up). How it will cope with the needs of the 2+ million British citizens currently in Europe, how it will cope with the massive amount of red tape and lost income that renegotiating contracts, requiring visas for every traveller, etc. How it will deal with the large amount of money still to be paid to the EU members if we continue to trade with them but lacking any control over how its used, as Norway currently has to. We will be better off making our own decisions? Fine. What decisions are we going to make?

Perhaps you can provide a leave argument that’s not based on lies and racism, preferably one with a real outline of how we deal with the predictable negative consequences? I’m yet to hear one.

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: How can any self-respecting European

^This. I’ve never been comfortable with ever-closer union, I’d rather we were just a trading bloc, but leaving is plain stupid. I doubt we’d end up having WW3 but we would have to create a trade agreement to trade with our former trading partners and since they’d be annoyed with us for pulling out I can’t imagine that the terms would be particularly favourable to us. Not having a trade agreement would mean having to pay tariffs on our exports, which we’ve not had to do for decades.

So yeah, it’d cost us money.

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth isn’t quite enough to trade with and our trade with the US is run through Europe. Oh, wait a cotton-pickin’ minute, isn’t President Obama after saying that he wouldn’t be in favour of Brexit? Uh-oh. Yes indeed, we can look forward on tariffs on trade with the US. What fun!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: How can any self-respecting European

Exactly, whatever savings are expected, we expect to spend at least as much getting back with existing trading partners and introduce plenty of additional costs and difficulties for business going forward. Plus, the economy will be very much damaged in the short term (and already has been even if we vote remain).

I’d be willing to entertain the idea of leaving if I could see mid to long term evidence of major improvement, and how autonomy would improve things if we leave. But, nothing. However bad you think the EU is being run right now, at least there’s evidence of how it operates and what can be done to improve it.

Come on exit supporters, name a ruling that the UK would have done better if we had autonomy, and provide evidence of how that would have improved things. I’m seeing nothing except vague whining from people who believe what the Daily Express writes about immigration (often proven lies) and myths from The Sun about bananas. Where are the facts?

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