The passage of the EU's Copyright Directive last March marked the most controversial rulemaking process in EU history, with lawmakers squeaking a narrow victory that relied on confused MEPs pushing the wrong button.
The main focus of the opposition was Article 13 (now Article 17), which will force tech companies to filter every video, audio clip, still image and word posted in the EU with a black box copyright filter that only the largest, US-based tech companies can afford.
But also important is Article 11, an idea so terrible that it would have been a source of massive controversy if it were not overshadowed by the world-beatingly stupid copyright filter rule. Under Article 13, linking to news articles with "snippets" (as few as two words from the article, including words from the headlines embedded in the article's URL) requires permission and a paid license from the news entity. The rule doesn't define who a news entity is, nor who needs to get permission prior to making these links, giving each EU member state broad latitude to create a patchwork of rules that, again, only the largest, US-based companies can afford to navigate.
But those companies aren't there yet: first, they're going to play hardball. France — so desperate to get the Directive passed that they secretly dropped their opposition to a Russian Gasprom pipeline in order to get Germany on-side — is the first country to implement the Directive, and has opted for a very restrictive "link tax" rule that gives news sites a veto over who may criticise their works and the right to charge for the privilege.
The last time this rule was tried — with national laws passed in Spain and Germany — Google News simply stopped linking to news sites from those countries, unless the sites gave them a "free license" to go on doing what they'd always done.
Now, Google News France has done the obvious: announced that they will no longer show previews of French news sites unless they have a free license to do so.
In response, the lobbyists who pushed for Article 11 say they're "looking at all the legal aspects" — that is, they're going to try to figure out if they can go to court to force Google to link to them and pay for the privilege.
If they're smart, they'll look for redress in anti-monopoly law. After all, if your business can be destroyed by the choices of a single company, that's a good sign that that company is too damned big. Unfortunately, between Article 11 and Article 13, the Copyright Directive has created a regulatory environment that can only be afforded by giant monopolists, and the EU's entire anti-monopoly strategy is based on the idea that it's too hard to break up monopolies.
However, Google's VP of News, Richard Gingras, said in a separate blog that the its snippets help, rather than harm publishers, and that it sends eight billion website visits to news sites in Europe alone. "We don't accept payment from anyone to be included in search results," he said. "We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That's also why we don't pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result."
Google also noted that it provides value to the news industry in other ways. "Google's advertising technologies are used by many websites, including news publishers, where publishers retain the vast majority of the ad revenue," said Gingras. "In 2018, Google sent $14.5 billion to publishers around the world."
Google to Strip Down French News Results Under New Rules [Aoife White/Bloomberg]
Google removes news previews in France to avoid paying publishers [Steve Dent/Engadget]