History Repeats Itself: Google France Deletes Snippets Over Link Tax

Experts and observers cautioned against the Link Tax. Google warned of the consequences. Publishers didn’t listen. Now, Google acted.

The consequences of Europe’s Link Tax is beginning to come into fruition. Earlier this year, Europe voted to pass the link tax along with the censorship machines. The open Internet killing laws were almost universally condemned by people who signed petitions and flooded the streets in protest.

Google, for its part, decided to warn European’s over the consequences of the Link Tax. In January, they test drove a Link Tax compliant news service. In it, all pictures were removed. Snippets, of course, were deleted. Even direct URL’s were removed. The page ultimately looked like it simply failed to load altogether.

What some might not have realized is that the test is not only supposed to show the consequences of the link tax, but also what happens to the ensuing traffic. Google later released the results of the test, showing that traffic plummeted 45% for publishers.

The demonstration actively proved that news publishers and search engines have a symbiotic relationship. Publishers produce the content. Search engines, for their part, then drive traffic towards those publishers. Search engines have a more powerful product while publishers get more people reading their content. In turn, publishers also get more subscribers and ad revenue.

Unfortunately, large publishers decided to paint services like Google as a parasite. They claimed that Google is somehow profiting off of their work and stealing money from publishers. Those claims, of course, aren’t actually true. So, the big publishers demanded that Google pay them for the privilege of linking to their content. Publishers even went to the extreme of actively threatening MEPs to vote in favour of the link tax to get their way.

After pulling procedural manoeuvres to confuse MEPs into voting for the laws, the dirty tactics helped get the laws to limp into passage. With common sense thrown out the window, the results of the big publishers are coming to fruition. Google France is now deleting news snippets from their Google News services. From Engadget:

Google has announced that it will not pay publishers in France for search results, and will instead show stripped back results for News. That will happen next month when France enforces new rules base on Europe’s controversial copyright law. “We will no longer display an overview of the content in France for European press publishers, unless the publisher tells us that it’s okay,” said Google in a blog. It added that publishers will get new webmaster settings that will allow them to specify how much information they want to preview in News results.

The “Copyright Directive” law makes large platforms like Google, Facebook and YouTube liable for content uploaded to their sites. They’ll be required to check for violations, and news aggregators must pay for snippets that go beyond “individual words or very short extracts,” according to the law. Google in many cases may not be able to include images in results, either.

So, if publishers wish to have their snippets on search results, they can opt out and let Google post them for free like the situation always was before these laws were passed. Naturally, publishers are furious that Google is following the law in a way that doesn’t actually benefit publishers:

European news publishers, which are trying to cope with falling revenues, condemned Google’s actions. “This was predictable,” Joy de Looz-Corswarem of the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association told the AFP. “We could have expected this sort of blackmail. We’re going to have to look at all the legal aspects.”

So, publishers got traffic from Google. Publishers then demanded payment for the privilege of sending traffic their way. In response, they wound up getting neither. What legal avenue they could pursue is unclear. After all, is Google News somehow obligated to post their snippets? Even if publishers somehow get a court convinced that they are, there’s nothing stopping search engines from simply pulling out of these countries altogether.

For a number of European’s, this incident is simply history repeating itself. As BoingBoing points out, Spain and Germany tried passing similar laws for publishers. Google then dropped their support for the countries. In turn, publishers saw their traffic plummet. In turn, publishers wound wound up begging Google to return.

The unfortunate part in all of this is the fact that history was ignored and now we are seeing a continent wide variation of this disaster unfold. All of this, of course, is completely unnecessary. It seems that ad revenue starved media outlets will now become even more revenue starved because of a failure to understand how technology works. Ultimately, we are seeing another black-eye on the publishers side. The publishers have no one to blame but themselves on this one.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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