EU Ruins Search, Tells Google To Fix It

As the cheers rang out in European Parliament yesterday, after the new Copyright Directive was passed, one has to wonder if anyone was asking themselves the question everyone in digital marketing would have posed -- did the EU just ban search? And social sharing of news articles? And are they really expecting the tech giants to shift through all material posted to ensure it is not copyright protected?

It can't have been just me also wondering whether it was a little two-faced of the EU to fine Google 2.4 billion Euros in 2017 for not opening its search results to enough companies, only to then face it with the so-called "link tax" for including content from other publishers. 

Sounds bizarre, doesn't it? However, one of the unintended results of the new law could be that as Google moves increasingly to providing answers in the form of snippets, it could be required to pay a fee to third parties for using content they have, of their volition, that is specifically tailored to be the right size and features the right keywords to make a snippet and earn them a link in a prime position.

The alternative would be for Google to either only use its own content for these boxes or restrict them to Wikipedia, or any other charitable encyclopedia, which has been exempted from the law.

Is it going to come to this? Has the EU really changed search forever? Well, it's pretty hard to tell, to be honest. As ever, it will come down to an interpretation of the law when search is concerned.

After a couple of years of debate, the EU managed to smudge the finer detail of Article 11, which gives publishers the right to demand a payment if an extract of their content is used alongside a link. The law allows a link and short number of words for free but doesn't provide any details of what that means.

So clearly, ripping off someone else's article, and saying that you at least included a link as an excuse is not acceptable, and quite rightly too. Where the line is drawn, though, is unclear.

As it stands, a strict reading of the law is that search is banned, unless Google only uses a couple of words as a summary or pays a bunch of news organisations to link to their content with a couple of lines of the article.

Alternatively, publishers could waive their right to that "link tax." To be honest, it's the most likely outcome. Can you seriously imagine a publication that would not want to rate well in search and Google News? The only logical solution is that publishers forget about this new "right" or be barred from search.

Or, just maybe, a way around the law that allows search and snippets to carry on as normal could be developed. However, it's not too helpful to hear the EU saying that is now up to the likes of Google to figure out how to stay within the law.

Elsewhere, the very clear nightmare for Google -- beyond search -- is ensuring that copyrighted material doesn't end up on YouTube, and the same for Facebook.

Clearly clips of sporting events and gigs will be barred, to think of a couple of obvious examples, but so too presumably will be people sharing news articles on Facebook that feature a link to the article with the first paragraph or so showing. Again, it's unclear how much can be shared legally and when copyright is infringed. 

There will be some good emanating from the new law. People have become decidedly lazy around copyright in the digital age, putting up soundtracks to music they have no right to use or simply publishing content, such as extended clips from tv shows, that they have no permission for. Online services that just rip off other people's content will also fall foul of the law, and that can only be a good thing. 

However, the law is too poorly defined at the moment to see whether copyright has made search illegal, whether Google News can carry on and whether social sharing is at risk. 

Any digital marketer would make the point to the EU that if publishers didn't want the free traffic that comes from search and social, why do they spend a fortune on SEO marketing and why do they publish a bunch of social sharing buttons at the top of each page?

I'd like to add to that, if you really want Google to open up search and make it reflective of all content -- not just its own -- why tax it to use snippets from other publishers that those publishers have got their SEO teams to finesse so they stand the best chance of making it to the top spot as a snippet?

It seriously just doesn't make sense. 

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