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Google warns the EU that a link tax will hurt news sites more than it hurts them

Google warns the EU that a link tax will hurt news sites more than it hurts them

This could soon be a US-exclusive feature GOOGLE HAS UPPED its lobbying efforts against elements of the European Copyright Directive by pointing out what happens to news websites if the search giant adopts changes to work within Article 11. Spoiler: it’s not good news for the publishing industry and journalists that have become accustomed to

Google warns the EU that a link tax will hurt news sites more than it hurts them

This could soon be a US-exclusive feature

GOOGLE HAS UPPED its lobbying efforts against elements of the European Copyright Directive by pointing out what happens to news websites if the search giant adopts changes to work within Article 11. Spoiler: it’s not good news for the publishing industry and journalists that have become accustomed to little luxuries like stability and money.

Before we get onto the actual findings, a quick recap on what Article 11 does. If passed in its current form, EU law would obligate search engines to pay licensing fees for use of the content it uses to illustrate the link. That means the headline, a snippet of text and an image would all be subject to a non-waivable licensing fee.

Google provided an example of what this would look like if followed through to its logical conclusion last month, and it’s a masterclass in minimalism. But now Google has provided insights into what this ridiculous version of search does to traffic.

Publishing directors, you may want to get a stiff drink.

“All versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers,” wrote Kent Walker, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs in a blog post. “Even a moderate version of the experiment (where we showed the publication title, URL, and video thumbnails) led to a 45 per cent reduction in traffic to news publishers.”

Okay, so where did the traffic go instead? “Our experiment demonstrated that many users turned instead to non-news sites, social media platforms, and online video sites—another unintended consequence of legislation that aims to support high-quality journalism.”

In other words: ‘nice business model you’ve got here. Would be a shame if anything happened to it.’

“There’s a better way forward. Instead of a sweeping rule banning the use of even ‘individual words’ or ‘very short extracts’ without a specific contract, Article 11 should permit the sharing of facts and the use of traditional limited previews—whether text-based snippets or other visual formats like thumbnail photos—which provide needed context for web users.”

(There’s also the way that the law is intended, of course: that Google just pays a little bit to publishers from its Scrooge McDuck-style swimming pools full of notes. For some reason the big G doesn’t seem keen on paying lip service to this option, despite banging on about how essential sustainable journalism is.)

Google has said that it’s quite happy to close it down if it doesn’t get its way. “It’s bluffing,” you might think, but try telling that to Spanish journalists, who found that Google is perfectly happy taking its ball and going home, as it did to avoid similar legislation in Spain.

Google claims it doesn’t make any money from Google News, and that’s likely true in the literal sense, but it may well add to its overall income in terms of repeat visits and incidental clicks elsewhere. Stuff that’s harder to measure.

At the very least it’s worth asking this question: if Google really makes no money from news, then why is it spending so much time and political capital on trying to make sure the current model remains unchanged? µ

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Susan E. Lopez
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