Will Google News Pull The Plug On Europe?

Will Europe think again? Can any form of words be agreed upon that end a ridiculous agreement? No, we're not talking about Theresa May trying to rescue her Brexit deal here, but rather the EU's proposal for a "link tax" that was voted in by MEPs in September.

Google is making it very clear that it may have close down Google News in the EU if the draft legislation becomes law, and it doesn't seem like an idle threat. It turned off the taps on links to news sources in Spain when a new copyright law was brought in there.

Just like the EU's "link tax," it was supposed to save content creators, but the papers and their sites that were supposed to be saved from the tech giant immediately called for a reversal when their traffic volumes plummeted.

It takes someone with just half a brain a moment to realise that this is the only possible outcome of the "link tax," but still the EU wants to press ahead and make Google pay a fee for lifting a headline and a sentence or so of copy when placing a news story in its SEO results. This obviously has far more impact on its News service, where users who are keen to focus on the stories of the day are likely to search. 

Europe has wanted to harmonise its copyright rules for years because they vary from one country to another, which doesn't lend itself well to a single market. However, somehow, MEPs have been persuaded that everything the tech giants do is bad, and so any search engine that lifts a line or two of copy from a copyrighted article or book will need to pay for the privilege. It may sound logical, but in practice, it risks shutting down a hugely beneficial flow of traffic to newspaper and magazine sites. 

There was one controversial part of Google News -- that a first-time reader should get a free click-through to content that would usually be paid for, but that has been dropped. Today, sites charging for content are rubbing shoulders with rivals that offer completely unfettered access. 

There is obviously a good argument behind having content creators whose videos go up on YouTube being full compensated, but to apply the same philosophy to a line of an article doesn't make sense. The snippet is there to encourage people go to read the article. It's effectively a free ad.

A good question for the European Parliament and the European Commission would be whether they think papers are reliant on this free source of traffic. Google News doesn't take advertising -- it simply has relevant stories displayed for users to click through and generate money for the destination site. 

It is true that Google most definitely hoovers up ad spend that would have previously gone to print. However, it's a different issue -- one where advertisers are exercising their free will to put money into search and video rather than print.

That ship has sailed, and print is declining already. If anything, Google sending millions of readers per month off to read relevant newspaper and magazine articles could be seen as the giant atoning for the huge revenues it sucks out of the market elsewhere. 

A compromise must surely come, and if the EU won't back down then I would suggest that the large newspaper groups will sign some kind of deal with Google whereby it pays an annual fee to list their output. Those that don't sign up won't be registered and won't get traffic from Google.

It's a ridiculous situation brought about by an ill-considered law, and for once, it has anyone in digital marketing with half a brain on the side of Google. That really takes some doing, EU. 

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