On 24th October 2019, France will be the first out of the 28 EU member states to enforce Article 11 of the European Copyright Directive. This law entitles French publishers to remuneration for the use of short excerpts of text taken from publisher’s content. This means that news aggregators, such as Google News and Bing, will be required to pay a fee in order to display snippets of content in search results. The legislation was passed following several European publishers discontent with Google making money by displaying links which include previews of publisher’s content.
Google plays hardball
Unsurprisingly, Google has made it clear once again that they will not be paying publishers the expected copyright licensing fees, also referred to as “link tax.” Instead, the tech giant has decided to completely exclude these snippets which will limit the content shown in its search results. Therefore, unless French publishers explicitly give permission to Google to display content previews, the search results will be stripped back to basics. The controversial measure was designed to level the playing field between tech giants and publishers in the industry who claim to lose between €250-€320 million per year in revenue to Google and Facebook’s power in the online advertising market. However, it is expected that publishers choosing to give less contextual information will experience reduced visibility and therefore a significant reduction in traffic.
Google has stated “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.”
Image credit: Search Engine Land
French publishers and publishing associations are outraged by Google’s decision, with some even referring to it as “content theft” and “blackmail.” Nonetheless, it has always been the choice of the publisher to decide whether they want their content to be accessible through Google’s search engine and Google News. Once Article 11 is enforced, publishers will be given more granular webmaster tools which allow them to specify the size of the content preview that will display in search results. Effectively, this will function as a waiver of their licensing rights under the new law.
How Google benefits the news
The head of the European Publishers’ Council said the company’s decision would “endanger professional journalism” and accused Google of “abusing its market power and putting itself above the law, while at the same time pretending they are acting in line with the law.” However, the tech giant has defended itself in a blog post by pointing out that Google benefits publishers by allowing them to display their newspapers free of charge in search results so that readers can discover them. On top of that, Google drives 3,000 clicks per second to publishers in Europe alone which translates into mass revenue gains through display advertising and the acquisition of paying subscribers. Inevitably, online publishers are dependent on search engines if they want to drive traffic to their websites and this move is likely to seriously damage their revenue streams.
In 2018, Google reported that they sent more than $14 billion to publishers across the globe.
It appears as though European publishers want the benefits of appearing in the search engine results, but they also want to earn commission from allowing Google to display their content, but they cannot have it both ways. The search engine has always had a focus on relevance and has never paid publishers for search results and is unlikely to in the future as this presents an unfair disadvantage to smaller publishers who could expect to receive only a tiny proportion of the revenue generated from licensing fees.
Sending a message to publishers
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that publishers have tried to take on the tech giant by forcing them to compensate publishers for their content. A similar legislation was also passed in both Germany and Spain and failed miserably, with Google News being eliminated from Spain completely. The tech giant has always maintained that they will never pay publishers for snippets. This is much less to do with money and more to do with the precedent it sets in Europe and globally, which would then translate into billions of dollars. Google’s response sends a strong message to other EU member states that are in the process of choosing which version of the European Copyright Directive will be integrated into their national laws. Earlier this year the tech giant carried out an experiment which concluded that publishers that prohibit the use of contextual information in search results, such as images and short excerpts, risk a 45% reduction in traffic, suggesting that stripping back search results will hurt publishers more than it will hurt Google.