Just As Everyone Predicted: EU Copyright Directive's Link Tax Won't Lead To Google Paying Publishers

from the duh dept

Look, not only was the following story totally predictable, but many of us directly warned the EU of what would happen if they instituted a “link” or “snippet” tax as part of the EU Copyright Directive. Of course, EU officials totally ignored all of the experts (or listened to a bunch of idiots in the publishing industry who insisted that “this time it will be different,” despite multiple examples of link taxes not working) and put a link tax into law anyway.

France has been the most eager to put the EU Copyright Directive into practice, and now that it’s about to establish a link tax for news aggregators, the one company such a link tax is mainly directed at (Google) has made it clear that (as it’s done with previous such taxes) it’s not planning to pay anyone to link to them (nor should it). Instead, Google has given webmasters (including publishers) greater control over how results linking to their pages will look — including letting publishers detail the types of snippets it will allow.

Previously, it was only possible to allow a textual snippet or to not allow one. We’re now introducing a set of methods that allow more fine-grained configuration of the preview content shown for your pages. This is done through two types of new settings: a set of robots meta tags and an HTML attribute.

Google has long allowed publishers to allow for a snippet or not, but now it’s also letting publishers designate a “maximum length” of the snippet, or a maximum video or image preview.

With that in place, Google has told publishers in France that in order to respect the new Copyright Directive link tax, it is removing all snippets unless the publishers opt-in via the tools mentioned above, to voluntarily choose to add back the snippets.

When the French law comes into force, we will no longer display an overview of the content in France for European press publishers, unless the publisher has made the arrangements to indicate that it is his wish. This will be the case for search results from all Google services.

Publishers have always been able to choose whether or not they want their content to be accessible through Google’s search engine or Google News. We have just put in place more granular webmaster settings that allow publishers to specify how much information they want to appear as a preview in the search results. Publishers around the world can use these new settings to choose the type of preview best suited to attract users to their site.

This is being framed by some as Google trying to “bypass” the EU Copyright Directive, but that’s nonsense. This is Google complying with the EU Copyright Directive. Again, this is similar to how it’s reacted in France and Germany, when similar link taxes were put in place. The problem is that the Eurocrats made a bunch of really dumb miscalculations here: first, they assumed that including snippets was more valuable to Google than it is to the publishers. It is not. Their traffic will decline without snippets, meaning many will quickly rush to opt-in to add them back. Second, they assumed that putting a tax on something wouldn’t change the incentives and that Google would just carry on offering the same snippets, but just paying for them. They were wrong.

Again, we went through all of this five years ago with the German link tax, and even though Google effectively did the same thing, when asked about this, I distinctly remember some EU politicians insisting that it would be different if the whole EU all agreed to a link tax, and that Google would have to pay. What’s incredible is that these same politicians will now whine and complain and lie, saying that Google is evading the tax when it’s actually complying with the law as written — and complying in the same way they complied with similar laws in the past. And, indeed, France’s Culture Minister has already put out a laughable statement arguing that in complying with the law, Google is violating it:

I call for a real global negotiation between Google and the publishers: the unilateral definition of the rules of the game is contrary to both the spirit of the directive and its text. I will speak very soon with my European counterparts to remedy this situation.

How hard is this to understand? If you make something against the law (aggregating news and posting snippets without a license), don’t be surprised if the companies who have been doing that stop doing that. You outlawed something, and so Google obeyed your new law and stopped doing it.

If the EU Parliament wanted a different outcome, perhaps instead of attacking those of us who warned this would happen, they should have listened to us. Apparently that’s just too difficult.

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Comments on “Just As Everyone Predicted: EU Copyright Directive's Link Tax Won't Lead To Google Paying Publishers”

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82 Comments
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

If you make something against the law … don’t be surprised if the companies who have been doing that stop doing that. You outlawed something, and so Google obeyed your new law and stopped doing it.

“But that wasn’t supposed to happen! They were supposed to pay so they could keep being outlaws!” — EU politicians, probably

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I’m actually rather surprised that they didn’t(well, yet I suppose I should say…) try to pull the same stunt Spain did and make ‘being paid for snippet use’ a ‘right’ that publishers couldn’t waive, as if it can then snippet taxes turn into penalties for greed, and the very people who were demanding to be paid for snippets are suddenly left in the dust by those that aren’t controlled by their greed.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Based upon the french cultural minister’s tantrum I rather suspect that to be one of the ‘remedies’ that will be brought up to deal with Google’s dastardly move of not being idiots and paying people to send them traffic.

Should that be the case one can only hope that someone prints out any of the numerous articles that are out there highlighting how well that worked the last time, rolls it up and smacks him on the head until the idea is dropped, both to punish him for his stupidity and because it would be extremely funny.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Step into that bear-trap!' 'Umm, no.' 'Fiend!'

Does it still count as malicious compliance if you’re simply refusing to step in the trap that’s been laid out for you?

Google was presented with the choice of including snippets and paying for them or not including snippets. They weren’t complete idiots and therefore picked the latter. However because they weren’t idiots they also presented an option for those that weren’t overwhelmed by greed in order to allow snippets on their service, but only for those that aren’t going to demand payment for the traffic they provide.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 'Step into that bear-trap!' 'Umm, no.' 'Fiend!'

"Not truly malicious in the strongest sense of the word, but certainly the meme-worthy modern usage. "

Not really. Consider what this whole mess is actually about.

Google was offering a free service to the news agencies. The news agencies tried to force Google to pay THEM for every time THEY used Google’s free service.

Now Google stops offering that free service, forcing the news agencies to either completely go without that service or spend enormous effort to manually opt-in for every article they publish and want Google to index.

This is not malicious compliance. This is just the news agencies emptying both barrels in their own foot.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even better…

"Google has told publishers in France that in order to respect the new Copyright Directive link tax, it is removing all snippets unless the publishers opt-in via the tools mentioned above, to voluntarily choose to add back the snippets. "

In other words, any publisher who wants ANY visibility must now manually edit what they want to be seen on a google search result, probably for EVERY individual article.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"He’s right, though. Everything blue writes is a nothing comment!"

Not everything. Occasionally old Blue/Baghdad Bob loses his shit completely and starts spewing death or rape threats, usually aimed at whatever exposed minority he feels is behind the vast conspiracy which keeps refusing to let his army of sock puppets stand unopposed.

Hysterical bigotry is, sadly, not "nothing".

Anonymous Coward says:

I. D. O’Logs

It’s always a matter of concentrated power versus many.

First (taking surface aspects as "real"), we’ll see how Google fares. It’s possible that enough major publishers will refuse their content to make Google pay. After all, no one ever indexed print magazines, yet many even small ones did well. — Also, it’s quite possible that new niches will develop that WANT isolation, not to have too many "outsiders" look in. Like Techdirt does, with its hiding all dissent.

Second, you SORT OF MISLED at least ME by railing as if were MANDATORY. This is another topic that little interests me, and you’re so utterly biased that can’t write clearly. So I think that reasonable for me to conclude. — Else WHY were you shrieking for several pieces! Google is NOT "taxed", eh? Just putting "robots.txt" into legal code?

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Google doesn’t need to pay the link tax because Google doesn’t rely on those major publishers for anything. If Google were to opt out of presenting snippets altogether — even the voluntarily-supplied snippets — the publishers would be harmed far more than Google would ever be.

And yes, if the publishers have an issue with Google scraping their sites, they can put up a robots.txt file. Thanks for finally getting a point this site keeps making damn near every time this subject crops up.

cpt kangarooski says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The newsstands engaged in public display, which is one of the exclusive rights of copyright. They just had the benefit of part of the first sale exception which allows public display of lawfully made copies. 17 USC 109(c).

The copying that necessarily occurs with computers should in many cases be exempted from copyright too, lest a rule developed in an age of tangible media deprive society of the benefits of intangible electronic media.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

The copying that necessarily occurs with computers should in many cases be exempted from copyright too, lest a rule developed in an age of tangible media deprive society of the benefits of intangible electronic media.

Unfortunately, a US court ruled that "the loading of software programs into random-access memory (RAM) by a computer repair technician during maintenance constituted an unauthorized software copy and therefore a copyright violation" (MAI Systems Corp. v. Peak Computer, Inc.). And then we got an exception added to the law: "Notwithstanding the provisions of section 106, it is not an infringement for the owner of a copy of a computer program to make or authorize the making of another copy or adaptation of that computer program provided: (1) that such a new copy or adaptation is created as an essential step in the utilization of the computer program in conjunction with a machine and that it is used in no other manner".

But you’ll note that the exception only covers copyright on computer programs. You do not get an exception to have your computer make a temporary copy of anything else, such as a movie.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"First (taking surface aspects as "real"), we’ll see how Google fares."

They will be absolutely fine. Google never made any money directly from the new services. They have enough ancillary services that even if their main search product have issues, they will still profit.

"After all, no one ever indexed print magazines, yet many even small ones did well"

Including the ones that were distributed for free… Almost as though a business model was thought out to deal with the marketplace.

"Just putting "robots.txt" into legal code?"

That file is far easier, more effective and cheaper than contacting a lawyer. Maybe you people will try it some time.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s always a matter of concentrated power versus many.

Nope.

First (taking surface aspects as "real"), we’ll see how Google fares. It’s possible that enough major publishers will refuse their content to make Google pay. After all, no one ever indexed print magazines, yet many even small ones did well.

Google is a search engine. It will still be used to find stuff until the others turn out to be more effective.

Also, it’s quite possible that new niches will develop that WANT isolation, not to have too many "outsiders" look in.

Then why put them online?

Like Techdirt does, with its hiding all dissent.

Aww, diddums. Nobody owes you a platform. Get over yourself.

Second, you SORT OF MISLED at least ME by railing as if were MANDATORY. This is another topic that little interests me, and you’re so utterly biased that can’t write clearly. So I think that reasonable for me to conclude. — Else WHY were you shrieking for several pieces! Google is NOT "taxed", eh? Just putting "robots.txt" into legal code?

Whoosh! That’s the sound of the point of the article flying over your head. Let me simplify it for you:

  1. EU pressured into enacting a snippet tax.
  2. Google removes all snippets, provides tools for publishers to opt in to snippets appearing alongside search results; as much or as little as the publisher wants.
  3. France: "Waaaaaaahhh! Google won’t pay us to send us traffic! Booo hooo!"
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The saddest part is really that the publishers will, like Baghdad Bob/Blue, just sit there and gibber incomprehensibly in outrage then go into hysterics at their hapless lobbyists telling them to "do something!!".

I keep wondering how so many gormless yokels who in medieval times would serve as village idiots end up in positions where they dictate flows of money, influence…or in blue’s case, latrine-glazed wordwalls.

Anonymous Coward says:

This has happened before in spain,
google shut down the news service in spain,
when a sniipet tax was brought in
there,s other search engines apart from google,
expecting a search engine to pay for linking to a site or a brief snippet is stupid and pointless .
Eu politicians are stupid or else they just follow the laws proposed by
old legacy corporations even if they make no sense , make money for no one, less search results fro news papers or article,s ,
how doe,s that help the publisher, the public,
Who does it help ?
google should launch google news france,
it will just show empty box,s ,
with zero links,
showing a list of french news outlets,
and the txt of the law ,
just to show how stupid the law is .
And maybe some links to american news outlets that have articles
about europe ,eg nyt, new yorker, etc

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: another nothing leader because can't use name!

[And yet I’m in again! Talk about whack-a-mole!]

Second, you SORT OF MISLED at least ME by railing as if were MANDATORY. This is another topic that little interests me, and you’re so utterly biased that can’t write clearly. So I think that reasonable for me to conclude. — Else WHY were you shrieking for several pieces! Google is NOT "taxed", eh? Just putting "robots.txt" into legal code?

Anyhoo, YES, Google is big and may have enough power in the market to control it. THAT’S THE MAJOR PROBLEM FOR THE PUBLIC, SEE?

All along, you were scarcely able to conceal glee that Google would actually be advantaged. As I agreed, because I think the EU / globalists are aligned with Google for its surveillance aspects, not actually intending harm.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: another nothing leader because can't use name!

Second, you SORT OF MISLED at least ME by railing as if were MANDATORY.

If that was your interpretation, then you misread the articles. That’s not TechDirt’s fault.

This is another topic that little interests me, …

Then why are you complaining about it? For that matter, why are you reading an article about a topic that doesn’t interest you?

…and you’re so utterly biased that can’t write clearly.

First of all, most people could read it just fine and had no problem with the writing. You yourself never previously complained about being unable to understand what was being said.

Has it occurred to you that you may have misread it because you were barely paying attention because the topic didn’t interest you?

Also, your writing leaves much to be desired, so you have no place criticizing Techdirt’s writing with such poor grammar.

Else WHY were you shrieking for several pieces!

Maybe you should try reading those pieces and find out. I’m not going to repeat the many, many problems with the EU Copyright Directive here after it’s been explained to you so many times.

Google is NOT "taxed", eh?

Not strictly speaking, no. At least, not in a way that Google couldn’t easily avoid at minimal cost. Technically, it’s a compulsory license (meaning that the copyright holder cannot refuse to allow it, but the copier must compensate the copyright holder for the use). It’s effectively taxing snippets of news articles online and giving the proceeds to the copyright holders.

That said, a news site could optionally give a cheaper or free license to Google (or any other site), bypassing the standard compulsory license. This keeps the code from breaking Creative Commons licenses or similar copyleft licenses.

Just putting "robots.txt" into legal code?

Yes and no. It sort of does in that similar search engines have to implement something like that, but that was basically always true. However, it’s actually somewhat reversed.

See, before, robots.txt allowed one to opt out of Google’s features, from having snippets or not to whether they’d even be listed at all. Now, at least for EU news sites, it’s an opt-in feature.

All along, you were scarcely able to conceal glee that Google would actually be advantaged.

Actually, that was a major criticism Techdirt repeatedly made. It also partially answers the question you asked about why else Techdirt would’ve complained so much about the link tax. They knew that it would not hurt Google and would in fact help cement it’s dominance in the market, while simultaneously making things harder for smaller competitors and EU news sites. They weren’t exactly thrilled with that.

As I agreed, …

Really? I distinctly remember you saying the exact opposite at the time.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re: another nothing leader because can't use name!

Anyhoo, YES, Google is big and may have enough power in the market to control it. THAT’S THE MAJOR PROBLEM FOR THE PUBLIC, SEE?

Other search engines exist. https://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share

That the public doesn’t bother to use others is up to them. Which of the many others is your preferred option?

All along, you were scarcely able to conceal glee that Google would actually be advantaged. As I agreed, because I think the EU / globalists are aligned with Google for its surveillance aspects, not actually intending harm.

LOL! No. The only conspiracy here was that publishers’ lobbyists pushed for a snippet tax only to have it blow up in their faces when Google complied with the new law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What about Bing?

The link tax applies to pretty much any EU based website that links to news articles, though the EU directive didn’t do a great job of defining who had to pay and when nor defining what sites actually counting as news sites so its possible when it gets implement by the various national governments we’ll end up with each country having slightly different rules (especially if later ones try to close the ‘loophole’ of allowing sites to not link to the news) which will make it a bigger mess than it already is going to be.

That One Guy (profile) says:

'How DARE you follow the law?!'

Ah lovely, and just like that their real goal is laid bare. It was never about how terrible it was for Google to provide snippets without permission, rather it was about forcing Google to provide snippets and pay for them.

They tried to force Google to pay out by making it illegal to provide snippets without paying for the ‘privilege’, and just like it happened the last time someone tried the same exact stunt Google instead choose to drop the snippets rather than pay. And the cherry on top is that once again someone’s throwing a tantrum because rather than pay out Google called their bluff and has instead chosen to drop said snippets unless a publisher makes clear that they will allow them to be used without demanding payment for said use.

Their greed may be all sorts of damaging, but it can also at times be comedy gold.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: 'How DARE you follow the law?!'

"Their greed may be all sorts of damaging, but it can also at times be comedy gold."

That’s what happens when you let village idiots unionize and spend the better part of a few centuries catering to their every whim. Shit like this is what has me convinced the copyright cult as a whole won’t survive this century. 🙂

Mononymous Tim (profile) says:

I call for a real global negotiation between Google and the publishers: the unilateral definition of the rules of the game is contrary to both the spirit of the directive and its text. I will speak very soon with my European counterparts to remedy this situation.

Nothing like saying "We wan’t Google to give us money no matter what!"

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: 'Do it my way or else' is not a 'negotiation', it's a threat

I call for a real global negotiation between Google and the publishers:

Gotta love the phrasing too, where they’re trying to frame it as a ‘negotiation’ rather than what it actually is, a demand. ‘You will carry snippets and you will pay for them!’

I look forward to whatever transparently greed-driven ‘remedy’ they can cobble together in their pathetic attempt to get traffic and be paid for it too.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: 'Do it my way or else' is not a 'negotiation', it's a threat

"I look forward to whatever transparently greed-driven ‘remedy’ they can cobble together in their pathetic attempt to get traffic and be paid for it too."

I look forward to every search engine online reacting in the only appropriate and reasonable manner…by following googles example.

Of course, it IS remotely possible that desperate and inept EU politicians may try to cobble together an attempt to force Google, Yahoo and Bing to carry news snippets and pay – at which point all of Europe will either be left without any ability to search the internet without using VPN’s with exit nodes outside of europe…or the EU courts will strike article 11 down in bolts of thunder as they so often have.

Personally I rather hope for the former. Perhaps the united sheep of europe will finally realize just what a shit-show they let themselves in for once the EU tries to roll most of modern information technology back to 1970.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: And, you read it here first.....

As Employee’s, you will work when UBER tells you to. You will work where UBER tells you to, etc. Since after all you are no longer your own Boss to do as you want. You are now after all an Employee. If you don’t like it you can quit. If you don’t do what they want, they will just fire you and hire someone else.

Of course, there is no longer a supply and Demand of UBER drivers. UBER limits the number of drivers and prices go UP. They can do that after all since you as an Employee have to work the hours and days and location they want you to work.

The few hours a week people will get the boot early on I think. Maybe UBER will turn everyone into Part-time Employee’s You can only work for UBER under 20 hours a week. Why not?

Anonymous Coward says:

Publishers should be greatful

Google could have just turned off snippets and called it done. That Google chose not to pay says they don’t see much value in providing the snippets, so they went above and beyond by offering to let publishers opt in to snippets. They could have chosen not to provide the ability for publishers to opt in to snippets, under any arrangements.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Publishers should be greatful

It’s actually a well played move on Google’s part. They comply with the law by setting snippets as off by default, and it’s up to the publishers to allow snippets by choosing to use the tools provided with them, which allows Google to set the terms of ‘If you allow us to use snippets you also agree that we don’t need to pay for them.’

By doing this Google avoids the potential of accidentally including a snippet from someone that wants money for the traffic Google sends them since snippets are opt-in, and the publishers are forced to admit that even if they aren’t getting paid for that traffic they still see value in Google including snippets, undercutting the idea that Google isn’t providing value and is unfairly profiting from the sites they index and provide snippets of.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Publishers should be greatful

And that is exactly how Google is phrasing it. To quote from their blog linked in the article:

Publishers around the world are able to use these new settings to determine what type of previews are most helpful to attract people to their sites.

… helpful to attract people …

And now the Eurocrats have egg all over their faces.

I can’t wait to see what happens with the not-but-are-automated censorship filters.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Publishers should be greatful

"…which allows Google to set the terms of ‘If you allow us to use snippets you also agree that we don’t need to pay for them.’"

Actually, whether it’s deliberately done this way by Google or not this puts the publishers in a very inconvenient seat.

See, by allowing publishers to opt-in at a fine-tuned level that also means the publishers must spend extra effort in fine-tuning how much of their articles Google will display on the search – probably on the level of every individual article. Multiply said effort by the number of search engine the publisher wants to be displayed at.

So either the publisher spends a LOT of extra effort – thus, extra money – in order to get visibility with google…or they end up becoming invisible.

A classic case of going for wool and coming home shorn.

DannyB (profile) says:

Complying with law is proof of trying to evade the consequences!

This is being framed by some as Google trying to "bypass" the EU Copyright Directive, but that’s nonsense. This is Google complying with the EU Copyright Directive.

Police: You are being arrested for jaywalking.

Pedestrian: But officer, I was crossing in the crosswalk.

Police: Yes, you were. And that is proof that you were trying to work around the new jaywalking law that was just passed, which requires people to cross only in crosswalks.

Pedestrian: Were you aware that there is a new donut shop only half a block to the west?

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