EU Parliament Dumps Link Tax, Invites News Publishers To Sue If They Think Google's Making Them Broke

from the won't-hold-my-breath-for-production-of-evidence dept

Last summer, Mike reported the EU Commission was about to institute a “link tax” on news snippets. In essence, the tax would have punished search engines for sending traffic TO news sites. Not only is that part of it a stupid, backwards idea, but previous attempts by European countries to institute link/Google taxes were abject failures, resulting in Google refusing to list taxed news articles in its search results.

Readers were invited to comment on the proposed tax. It’s not clear whether those comments were heard above the overly-confident dull roar of industry lobbyists, but whatever the turning point was, the link tax idea is dead. What’s being offered to publishers is something completely different: an opportunity to sue Google, et al for supposed infringement.

The decision by copyright rapporteur and European People’s Party MEP Therese Comodini Cachia is a mixed result for European publishers, who had lobbied for legislation allowing them to charge companies like Google and Yahoo when they display parts of their articles, including headlines and snippets.

While the proposed measure falls short of that ambition, it would create a legal channel through which publishers would be able to attempt to enforce their claims. “Press publishers are given the right to bring proceedings in their own name before tribunals against infringers of the rights held by the authors of the works contained in their press publication,” reads the report.

Say goodbye to ancillary rights and hello to pointless litigation. The latter is the better idea, though. This puts the burden on news agencies to show they’ve been harmed by increased referral traffic. This proposal isn’t making many European publishers happy.

“Comodini’s draft report fails to deliver for press publishers,” said Wout van Wijk, executive director of industry association News Media Europe. “All that this will potentially do is lead to more litigation.”

Publishers don’t have to sue. It’s not mandatory. They could just sit back and enjoy the additional traffic. As the EU Parliament points out in its proposal, Google’s news snippets aren’t “necessarily disproportionately harmful” to publishers and may very well increase traffic to their sites and provide them with new subscribers. It’s pretty much impossible to present evidence of harm when there’s no evidence to be had. The whole “link tax” idea rests on publishers’ unfounded claims Google, etc. are responsible for the financial woes of the continent’s new agencies. There are multiple factors to consider, but publishers seem to focus solely on Google, as if news publishers and Google were engaged in a zero sum profitability game.

The report also points out a link tax might have a chilling effect on thousands of citizens who have nothing to do with the search engine giant. Its report notes the non-commercial sharing of links is an important part of societal communication and levying a tax on sharing is no way to encourage speech. Shifting the burden of proof to publishers challenges them to put their theoretically “lost” money where their mouths are… which is the way it should be.

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Comments on “EU Parliament Dumps Link Tax, Invites News Publishers To Sue If They Think Google's Making Them Broke”

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19 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

"But... we don't want to end up like them!"

I imagine by this point they’ve done at least enough research to find out what happened when others have tried to extort money from Google for snippets/links in the past, which has got to be driving them absolutely bonkers now that they can’t demand that Google pay them.

Without a way to force Google to pay them, all they have is a lawsuit, and Google has made it clear that they are quite willing to dump snippets or even kill off an entire service in a country rather than be required to pay the sites that are getting free traffic from Google.

Sure they can sue Google, but if history is any indicator that is not going to help them out, and will only result in them wasting money going legal, watching Google respond by dumping the snippets/links, and having to go crawling to Google, begging to be re-listed.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: "But... we don't want to end up like them!"

While Google is the target here maybe we must remember this would impact everybody and the smaller players could be killed making Google much more dominant. Even then, we should be cheering it (Google) is big enough to give them the finger and simply pull the plug making them actually lose money. Not that it’s good they have such power but in this specific case they (Google) are actually helping to stop the legacy players bullshit. Of course the same result could be achieved by search engines collectively purging the snippets from the complaining parties but I suspect it would have been harder to get a coalition.

Anonymous Coward says:

If their is any justice in the world, the newspapers sue, Gooole says robots.txt, and the court awards Google costs.

In reality the newspaper problem is not Google, but rather the ubiquitous phone camera and and all the routes to an audience that have opened up, like Twitter/Facebook for breaking news, and Blogs and Video sites for considered commentary. O.K, Google supports this competition with Blogger and YouTube, as well as making content easier tto find, but that is not infringement.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In Europe it is most common that court costs are part of the punishment for the losing side either way.

If the publishers really want to fight Google, they should support third party cookie regulations and big data regulations, while they campaign for changing away from Googles site management tools and advertisement. In that way they can spin their crusade as defending public rights while they weaken Googles position on advertisement significantly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ugh....

These people clearly have no idea of what it was like before competent search engines.
They either didn’t use the internet then, or the content they might have wanted just wasn’t there yet. Either way, they don’t realise search engines were an answer to a very real problem that helped make the internet what it is today. And because of that, they are an intrinsic part of the internet as we use it today, for better or worse.
I think Google should go dark on EU news sources for a month to remind everyone why it provides a valuable service for everyone involved. Hell, try it out even just for a day!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Ugh....

No need to punish the general public by affecting everyone, but if one or more of the publishers try the ‘Pay us or else’ route then I’d fully support Google making an example of them and responding to the threat as they have to similar ones in the past.

A few publishers begging to be re-listed should get the message across quite nicely to the others that trying to extort money from someone that’s currently helping you for free isn’t a smart move.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Ugh....

if they wanted re-listed

I knew of a regional transit provider that got sued. Their answer was to de-peer the plaintiffs ASN. After the provider won the suit, they refused to re-peer the plaintiff, saying "Enjoy your intranet." The plaintiff had to secure a POP line from another provider, costing them about four times more, and eventual bankruptcy.

Google plays too nicely. They’ll let you back in once you play nicely back. I wouldn’t.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Ugh....

It’s been mentioned before, generally during previous attempts by publishers at extorting Google, and the response by other commentors has been along the lines of:

Google wants companies to be listed on their service. Both they and the other companies benefit from people using Google’s service(s) to find sites to go to, Google getting people using their service and the sites getting more traffic.

While it’s understandable to say that they should get a little revenge by refusing to re-list someone, doing so is in conflict with what’s best for the company, in this case having as many sites listed as possible, as well as possibly opening them up to more legal action for ‘unfair discrimination’, that would cost them extra time and money even if it was shot down as soon as it went before a judge.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yellow Pages

Like cable TV they’ve gotten even MORE expensive as they’ve gotten less relevant. With their non-paid automated listings reaching bad joke level inaccuracy.

I and my address are now incorrectly tied to three companies by the Yellow Pages. They won’t communicate with you unless you sign a contract and pay them to correct their errors. In fact I think that’s their new business model.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Yellow Pages

I think that also has something to do with The Yellow Pages being licensed or whatever to everyone and their cousin who wants to dump a phone book on your lawn.

One more thing that was destroyed along with the Bell System. But AT&T isn’t a monopoly now, oh no. In fact, they should just merge with everyone else in the same businesses, that would be just peachy.

It’s all a yuuge conspiramacy, i tells ya.

Cowardly Lion says:

Re: Re: Re: Yellow Pages

"I and my address are now incorrectly tied to three companies by the Yellow Pages."

Just a thought – if this happened to me, here in EU land, I’d dob them in to our Information Commissioner. There’s a requirement under Data Protection that states that the holders / processors of personally identifiable data must ensure such data is correct, electronic or otherwise. Or else.

I can’t believe how dumb Yellow Pages has gotten these days. I guess all their brightest must have fled for more promising shores…

Anonymous Coward says:

yet another sensible result from the EU and another well deserved kick in the nuts for the proponents of this sort of crap, including Commissioner, Günther H. Oettinger! (he seems to be so far up the entertainment industries ass, that even the Sun cant reach him! he definitely needs to be sacked and replaced by someone who is at least prepared to weigh objectively both sides of an argument and come down on the sensible side!) cant understand what’s going on!

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