A Link Tax Won't Bring Back Journalists; It Will Do Even More Harm To Them

from the this-is-a-bad,-bad-idea dept

While most of the attention on the upcoming votes around the EU Copyright Directive is on the mandatory filters found in Article 13, we should be just as concerned about the link tax in Article 11. European publishers have been flat out lying about the proposal, which is little more than an attempt to just demand cash from Google and Facebook.

We’ve already explained why this is a bad idea. And it’s not a theoretical issue either. This very same proposal has been tried in Germany and Spain and it failed miserably in both places, to the point of doing serious damage to traffic to news sites, without increasing revenue.

Unfortunately, it appears that at least some journalists don’t want to hear about the facts. AFP’s Baghdad Bureau Chief, Sammy Ketz has pieces in the Guardian and La Stampa (and possibly elsewhere) making an impassioned — if somewhat confused — plea in support of Article 11.

The reasoning is fuzzy, because there is no legitimate basis for Article 11, but Ketz basically says “there are fewer reporters these days, because news orgs are failing, but Google and Facebook have lots of money, so Article 11 is important, because they’ll give us money.” Really.

The media have endured a lot of pain for a long time before reacting to the financial drain, struggling with the consequences rather than the cause. They have laid off staff almost to the point of absurdity. Now they are demanding that their rights are respected so they can carry on reporting the news. They are simply asking that the sales revenue is shared with those who produce the content, whether they are artists or journalists. This is the meaning of ?neighbouring rights?.

We can no longer swallow the lie spread by Google and Facebook that an EU directive on such rights would threaten people?s ability to access the internet for free. Free access to the web will endure because the internet giants, which now use editorial content for free, can reimburse the media without asking consumers to pay.

Difficult? Impossible? Not at all. Facebook made $16bn in profits in 2017 and Alphabet (Google?s parent company) $12.7bn. They simply have to pay their dues. That is how the media will survive and the internet titans will be contributing to the diversity and freedom of the press they claim to support.

Notice no other justification is given other than “the news business is struggling, the big companies have made lots of money, therefore, they should give that money to news orgs.”

There are a number of problems with this — ones you would think an experienced reporter like Ketz would have at least explored before publishing such a thing. First off, the experiments with similar proposals in Germany and Spain showed that it did not lead to news organizations getting more money. Instead, the reverse happened, and it harmed news organizations. Second, the clear implication of Ketz’s articles is that Google and Facebook are somehow to blame for the problems news organizations have had. That’s simply false. It ignores large technological shifts to an internet age in which we don’t actually need every major newspaper sending reporters to cover the same things, because that’s inefficient. It also ignores the massive failures by the big new organizations to actually change and adapt to the internet era.

I’ve pointed this out for over a decade now, but the news business has always been a “community” business. Historically, newspapers aggregated communities of local readers, and sold their attention to advertisers. Unfortunately, many publishers (and journalists) incorrectly thought they were in the “news” business, rather than the community business. But the internet opened up many new communities, and the ones that formed around old school news businesses flopped — in part because those businesses did nothing to cultivate community. In fact, they often went the other direction with paywalls, intrusive advertising, pop-ups and the like to actively push the community away… to sites like Google and Facebook.

And now they want Google and Facebook to pay them, when they were the ones who failed, and Google and Facebook succeeded? How does that make sense at all?

Finally, Ketz completely brushes aside the very real concerns about how a link tax would fundamentally change the underpinnings of how the World Wide Web works (links) by falsely claiming that it’s just a “lie spread by Google and Facebook.” And he even misstates what he thinks the concern is. It’s not that people wouldn’t be able to “access the internet for free.” It’s that it would fundamentally change how linking can occur on the web, which is the single biggest feature to making the web work. If we’re going to make that change, shouldn’t we take some time to actually understand what it would do? Shouldn’t we look at how this has already been tried and failed in two major European countries?

Apparently, to Ketz, that kind of reporting isn’t necessary. Instead, he sees fewer reporters, he sees big tech companies making money, and he thinks that Article 11 magically changes both of those things. He’s wrong about why there are fewer reporters, he’s wrong about why internet companies have been successful and he’s doubly wrong about how Article 11 should work.

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Companies: facebook, google

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Comments on “A Link Tax Won't Bring Back Journalists; It Will Do Even More Harm To Them”

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Anonymous Coward says:


if I write a link down on paper (say http://www.techdirt.com) and give it to a european, have I just violated article 11?
What if I write <a href=”www.techdirt.com”>site</a> (which is about as link-y as a link can get) on a piece of paper?

Seems kinda like this also infringes on freedom of speech (I know basically nothing of EU law, so no idea if that is even a thing on paper over there)

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: soo

The United States is unusual among Western countries for making our human rights protections the highest of laws. Most other countries do it through mere statutes, and one statute can easily override or supersede another.

In the EU, if two statutes directly conflict, the court balances them out in a compromise. In the US, if a statute directly conflicts with the Constitution, the Constitution wins.

Anonymous Coward says:

Google, Facebook, etc., could continue exactly as they are but without actually linking to European sites, instead providing the URL which could be copied and pasted into a browser for those really interested in visiting the source material. No link, no tax. Also, less traffic and lower profits for the news sites.

One day they’ll learn.


Seegras (profile) says:

You can read this here:
Yes, it’s a bit convoluted

And no, it’s not about linking in the first place, but about “publishers of press publications” having the right to demand you don’t “quote” them (unless you pay), where “quote” might include the actual text of the URL itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know about EU law but in the US short quotes are allowed as fair use. It’s basically how Goole, et. al., drive traffic to sites via search. Most people will read the quote/excerpt rather than just the title and URL before clicking on a link. Without those excerpts the search result is nothing more than “maybe this is relevant, go ahead and risk your time”.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The news business has always been based upon advertising revenue, subscriptions or per copy price was a pittance in comparison. Reversing the polarity of the revenue stream seems like a natural occurrence. Too bad it will fail, in any form they can imagine.

Which raises the question, how can news organizations be supported? They are a necessary part of good government, and should be either independent of major influences, or enough of them, supported by different streams to maintain some tension. Other than plain old charity, what do we do? I say we, because they haven’t a clue. Apparently.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:


Developing trust in one’s ‘news’ product takes work. A lot of work, and skill. All those independent sources, while they have value, would need to work full time developing story after story (building story sourcing and telling skills) until trust is built, not just in consumers, but with sources. If they are working at it full time, they would need income, just as current new organizations need income.

While the legacy industry has issues, they already have developed skills in both sourcing and story telling. I will give you that in recent years both the sourcing (news organizations parroting whatever government says) and story telling (more unidentified opinion than facts and analysis) have deteriorated.

One of the points of finding new ways to fund news gathering and reporting is to make them more independent, and able to maintain resources to that end.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Yes there are, but there are also big differences. Broadcast (either radio or TV) are limited in time. They have a tendency to cover ‘big’ issues and don’t even bother with anything ‘small’. And that ‘big’ issue coverage is very limited (time again), as the have the next ‘important’ story to get to.

There have been some attempts at ‘news magazine’ style reporting on radio and TV, and to a large degree they have not met the burden. Even NPR or PBS have gotten entrapped in that they fail to ask the hard questions, or to challenge fallacious answers. And again, they are limited by time, they only cover so many stories, the ones ‘they’ think might be important. Now that is true of print media to some degree as well. But there are a lot more of those than the others, and they are willing to, for example, print obituaries, whereas your local TV station does not, unless it was a celebrity. There are other services provided by the print media that don’t take place on TV or radio, if one takes the time to look.

Zgaidin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You’re both right, and there’s the rub. It’s absurd to consider funding news organizations through either charity (if enough people were willing to pay, we wouldn’t be having this discussion) or coercion (talk about undermining trust and independence). It’s equally ridiculous consider a world without independent, reliable news sources.

Mike, however, is right as well. There are steps that news orgs could take (or could have taken at some point in the past) that could have reduced costs through increased efficiency rather than just firing reporters. Take the Washington Press Court as an example. At its base, it’s a bunch of journalists whose job is to show up at White House press conferences, ask some questions if those are allowed, and then report what happened. This is a prestige assignment. The members of the Press Court aren’t newbies, they’re veteran journalists. Obviously, there’s more to their job than just attending press conferences, but it still costs a not inconsiderable sum of money to have 20-40 journalists plus assorted camera and support personnel show up at these events. Then end product of that is 20-40 virtually identical recordings of a prepared speech and sometimes evasive answers to a handful of softball questions. Why not just pay one independent camera operator to go down and record the thing and live-stream it back to them. Then, let these veteran reporters get on with their actual jobs?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Those options are sill available to them. Whatever their reasons for not taking those steps, it appears they see an easier way. That it won’t work seems beyond their understanding. That they think they ‘deserve’ more money isn’t really in question either. How they go about getting more money is.

They need both to become more efficient, and retain the skilled personnel while excising those that are no longer needed as well as developing new business models that work. Part of the issue here is profit. Investors tend to not only want more profit, every quarter, they want continued growth, every year. That is a model that might not always be possible, or isn’t now and the realization causes them to grasp for the unobtainable. So again, what to do?

That One Guy (profile) says:

'Third time's the charm, I'm sure of it!'

Yeah, I can only guess that they did absolutely zero research on the subject before writing up that article, because it really couldn’t have been that hard to see what happened the last few times that’s been tried, and ‘more money for professional journalists’ was not on the list of effects from those times.

Either that or they did research what happened before, and are hoping really hard that this time, this time they’ll finally be able to pry some of that sweet, sweet money from Google and Facebook(rather than just being de-listed again.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Defining Property

The link isn’t the single biggest feature to making the web work. It’s the defining property of the web. Before we had Gopher and the World Wide Web, there was data out there on the Internet, but siloed. The clue’s in the name. If you put your fingers through a spider’s web breaking some of its strands, it soon stops being a web.

The concept of the hyperlink goes back through Ted Nelson and Vannevar Bush to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – an example being the The Mundaneum project. The World Wide Web just happens to be its second practical realization.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s more than a little hypocritical as well, because I suspect they would not be happy were the ‘we provide them value, we deserve to get paid for it’ argument turned against them.

Increased traffic is something you usually have to pay for in the form of advertising, and if Google and the like are giving them increased traffic then clearly it’s only right that the news sites pay for that value being added.

Unless of course the ‘our stuff/platform gives you increased value = give us money’ argument is only meant to go one way, in which case their argument would be exposed as nothing more than a blatant cash-grab merely using the facade of ‘fairness’ in an attempt to shake down companies more successful than them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m actually hoping the EU moves ahead with this and signs it into law. I want to start a pool for how many days pass between signing this into law and repealing it due to new publishers’ lost profits. I figure there would be enough pool participation to give away a Ferrari to the winner.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'I lost a finger, they lost a HAND.'

If history is any guideline they’d be howling about how unfair Google is being in refusing to pay them within the week, though whether that would result in a full repeal rather than some other way to turn the screws and get paid is debatable.

It’s worth remembering that when Spain did this both major news sites and minor ones were hit, but the smaller ones were hit harder, such that even if the major ones do suffer from it the sites that compete with them stand to suffer even more, something you can be sure they’ve considered and possibly even planned for.

Anonymous Coward says:


I wonder if you’re advocating for the wrong action here. Perhaps link taxes should be encouraged in the EU.

You correctly noted what happened in Germany and Spain, but that doesn’t seem to have affected anyone in these governments or lobbying groups.

Perhaps watching the entire industry die on a single continent will serve as a loud enough warning to the rest of the world that this idea (and ideas like it) simply cannot and will not work.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

they are already dying, the problem is that it is too slow for people to learn the lesson.

If the problem does not rise up and punch you in the fucking face and start a war withing 3 fucking hours people just forget about it and adjust.

People will in fact go to great lengths to endure tyranny and bullshit rather than become strong enough to stand up to any of it. And by the time they do, nothing but blood and death will will be the only avenue left. Everyone has to slide completely down the slippery slope into hell long before they even realized they have started slipping at all!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps watching the entire industry die on a single continent will serve as a loud enough warning to the rest of the world that this idea (and ideas like it) simply cannot and will not work.

If they were the only ones impacted that might be a viable option, the problem is if they go the spain route of making the link-tax mandatory rather than optional(and unless their stupidity matches their greed they really have no choice but to make it mandatory) a lot of collateral damage would result from it, impacting a lot of innocent people and sites that aren’t greedy, short-sighted fools.

Standing back and letting a fool burn down their own house because they think (incorrectly) that doing so will benefit them is one thing, when you understand that that ‘house’ is actually an apartment, surrounded by other apartments filled with people who aren’t greedy idiots and with the building right next to the one you’re in, standing back and letting them pour the gasoline so they can learn the hard way how stupid it is stands not just to screw them over, but many people over, possibly including you.

Zgaidin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Wonderful analogy. That’s exactly why many of us laughed when Germany and Spain tried it with very predictable results, but are quite a bit more worried about an entire continent giving it a try. If it goes forward, this entire law stands the risk of effectively creating an internet quarantine around all of Europe as every major content provider decides it’s too risky to operate there. Suddenly, Europe finds itself (at least temporarily) without any real internet content, and the rest of us have a hard time using the internet to find out what’s happening in Europe or connecting to people there.

John Smith says:

“short uqotes” are not necessarily fair use, though a court might rule they are. The “impact on the market value of the original work” is one of the four prongs in the fair-use test.

The problem here is that print media is dying not because ofsearch engines, but because CRAIGSLIST ripped their guts out by offering free classified advertising, which used to be the backbone of newspaper income.

I’d like to see search engines pay for the right to link, but the world says otherwise and I can adapt. The sites used to cache websites until the only unfavorable ruling against search engines in a North American copyright case chaned that in 2009.

the print media also died out beause they excluded a lot of relevant news and contributions, plus they all gave free advertising to Google, Facebook, and Twitter, literally feeding the beast.

Wait until Big Internet figures out it can just pay professional football players 50 percent more than the NFL, and rather than buy the rights, they just start the Internet Football League. Ten years ago I asked my cabdriver what he thought of this, and he said “the internet will never replace football or anything else. It’s not relevant.” Not sure what my Uber driver would say now.

T O'Reilly (yesterday those three letters were blo says:

Right, Google boy: everyone else pays for content, Google USES

it for FREE. That’s just repeating your thievish notion of 20 years now, from Napster to Aereo, all roundly ruled against in courts.

Your notions were NOT the way print worked, not because of speed, but because no one was fool enough to let grifters take their work and get advertising revenue from it.

The Internet enables new ways of GRIFTING, but has not made any new viable way of funding PRODUCTION.

news business has always been a "community" business.

Has it? In the terms you state here, of letting someone use your content for free by which leverages and controls ALL the advertising revenue while you get none? NO. You’re simply making up a "narrative" of wonderful "community". In fact, several publishers fought like cats over the few scraps, way it should be.

But on the Internet, enabled by laws that shield grifters ("safe harbors"), you can’t compete with free when it’s your own content being used. With so clear a case that the present isn’t working, so clearly unfair competition by unproductive middlemen, you STILL don’t want any attempt at reasonable "sharing" of of the "community" wealth. Your notion of "community" is simply feudalistic: unrewarded slave labor and corporate royalty.

Google / Facebook with inordinate benefit of scale — and almost no costs — simply scrape value from publishers and collect most of the advertising revenue they’d been getting.

What changed is the insertion of a non-productive middlemen that don’t finance content in any way. You can claim that insertion isn’t by force, but that’s only because you’re not the ones being raped.

By the way, with so much easy money so easily available, why haven’t other corporations been able to do "search" and get significant market share? It’s not the vaunted algorithm (which is mostly now to set criteria so that "conservative" news doesn’t appear), so why don’t people set up servers in their garage as some Google-flak said, and compete with it? HMM?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Right, Google boy: everyone else pays for content, Google USES

In the physical world I can avoid morons like the one I replied to and I’m not repeatedly subjected to their insane rants. In most virtual forums I can even ignore specific posters because nobody is allowed to post anonymously. Only here must we endure all of this stupidity.

You also mistake casual observation for anger. Project much?

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Are there fewer journalists

Is there actual evidence that there are fewer journalists?

I don’t think anyone is disputing that there are fewer traditional local journalists covering local matters. However, major national and international reporting seems subjectively to be doing fine with ample sources covering events from multiple angles.

Topical, subject matter oriented reporting also seems, subjectively, to be doing better than it did when I was a child. Arstechnica, techdirt, techcrunch, etc. report rapidly on tech related news for instance. When I was a child, the closest I could come to that kind of reporting was a couple of monthly magazines (Popular Science and Computerworld).

Even news of local events seems faster and easier to come by if you are willing to accept amateur and semi-pro blogs and special interest publications alongside your traditional newspapers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Are there fewer journalists

I did a lot of work for traditional newspapers 10 to 15 years ago. I don’t have any sources I can quote but I can confirm that over the years I spent with those companies they lost a lot of journalists and weren’t hiring replacements. They significantly increased what they got from “the wire” vs what they wrote themselves.

TimothyAWiseman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Are there fewer journalists

Thank you for the perspective.

I don’t doubt that the number of traditional, local reporters is dwindling. But my subjective experience suggests that the total amount of journalism is increasing, rather than decreasing, once you count more topic focused journalists and less-traditional local news sources.

I know quite well that subjective experience can be misleading and may well be entirely wrong in this case. Still, that does make me very curious about if there is any hard evidence either way.

Zgaidin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Are there fewer journalists

That seems to be one of the regular tripping point in this larger discussion. It certainly seems, from my non-journalist pov, that many of the “traditional” news orgs don’t view amateurs of any sort as journalists, and many of them seem to give only a grudging nod to issue-focused publications that arose online (such as TD or Ars). Forbes, the Economist, etc seem to have been grandfathered into the club on the basis of their print bona fides.

That makes answering your question difficult because there doesn’t seem to be a general consensus on a the definition of “journalist.”

Christenson says:

Re: Re: Re: Are there fewer journalists?

Hmm… this seems like a rehash of the “piracy is killing music and video” argument….

In that case, those outside the control of the gatekeepers are creating more than ever, and the gatekeepers themselves aren’t doing badly.

Oh, and in my area, a printed publication called “the blue ridge buck saver” destroyed much of the classified ad revenue of the local paper. Craigslist was a latecomer!

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You guys heard of The Athletic? It’s the best sports journalism site on the web by far. Costs money to access. Must drive Mike Masnick crazy, eh?

Why would that drive me crazy? I actually think they do a pretty good job — in part because they focus on having really good reporters who add a lot of value, thereby making it worth paying for. I’ve always said that the only situations in which a paywall works are ones with truly unique content, rather than straight up reporting. The nice thing that the Athletic does well is focus on high quality.

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