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.