Why Google And Publishers Are Right On EU's Crazy Link Tax

As the UK pretends to decide today what its future relationship with the EU will look like, before it is put off for another vote another time, there is a real battle looming in the EU over publishing and copyright.

It took on a new meaning yesterday when Reuters launched a report outlining publishers' visions of the future. If the vision is accurate, it would surely suggest that media people would have to side with Google in its vocal opposition to the draft EU Copyright Directive. 

It is the law that will bring in what is being widely referred to as the "link tax" and could see, what The Guardian refers to as the billions flowing from tech giants -- most notably Google -- to publishers. One can see how this works in lifting chunks of a piece of work, particularly a song or other copyrighted material. If someone wants to cut and paste a piece of someone else's work, it's only fair that they should share any revenue that comes from the endeavour. 

However, with search it is entirely different. Sure, the occasional media magnate, such as Rupert Murdoch, has complained about having headlines and intros ripped out and put on a search result. However, I think it's fair to say that most publishers welcome the opportunity to feature on the first page of a general Google or Google News search. It's great SEO that can drive traffic, and for free.

How do we know this is the general view? Well, the aforementioned Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism published its findings yesterday --MAD London  covered the insight that more publishers are expecting subscriptions to keep the lights on than digital advertising this year. 

However, there was the additional finding that publishers are fed up with the weakening organic reach of Facebook -- so much so that with nearly nine in ten publishers believing Google is their most important channel for the year ahead, search is being relied on twice as heavily as social media for distribution.

This brings us to the quandary. To get SEO distribution, to cash in on this growing reliance on search over social, publishers need to get good organic results. They need to preferably be on page one with a compelling headline, image and introduction that will get people clicking. 

The trouble is that the EU wants Google to pay for the right to publish these mini snippets that drive clicks and help publishers sell more digital advertising and promote their subscription packages. 

it is totally counterintuitive, then, for the EU to persist with requiring a search engine to pay a link tax. In the absence of any direct research on the subject, it is logical to suggest that a growing reliance on SEO means publishers would not want to curtail how Google sends them free readers and viewers.

This raises the question of whether it is also possible that publishers could refuse to charge Google or that if some do and some do not seek a payment, Google will choose whom to send free traffic to accordingly. 

This column is the first to point out if Google is being bullish or not living up to its responsibilities to pay its full and fair share of tax. However, on this issue, Google is completely right. The EU has gotten it wrong and, logic dictates, publishers are likely to be in the unlikely camp of cheering on one half of the dreaded duopoly. 

Next story loading loading..