The European Union has been going hard on technology giants like Google in recent years, but the search giant is expressing serious concerns about the EU’s new copyright directives. According to a Google executive, the company is considering shutting down its Google News portal in Europe if the latest copyright changes, known as the “link tax,” go into effect.
The link tax is part of the delightfully bureaucratic-sounding The European Union Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market. The link tax is known more properly as Article 11. This set of rules says that technology firms like Google and Facebook that profit from content on the internet by linking to it should have to pay a fee to those sites. You’ve probably heard more about Article 13, which has similar provisions that address remixed content. Thus, it’s often called the “meme ban.”
Richard Gingras, Google’s VP of news operations says the company never wants to shut down a successful product people use. At the same time, Google News isn’t a money-maker on its own. Like many Google services, revenue from News is minimal — it’s mainly a way to keep people engaged with Google’s services so they’ll stick around and see more ads (of which there are none in Google news).
There are loud voices on both sides of this debate. Many traditional media companies in Europe blame Google for siphoning off ad revenue that kept newspapers afloat. Musicians and artists are also largely in favor of the Digital Single market rules. However, many smaller websites rely on the traffic Google News and similar services drive. Open internet advocates also worry that the harsh rules will harm innovation and make it difficult for users to share legal, public domain content.
The European Parliament supported the copyright expansion overwhelmingly in September, but that doesn’t put the rules into effect immediately. Individual member nations have to craft legislation based on Articles 11 and 13 before internet companies would need to do anything differently. Google is hoping to influence European nations before any laws are put in place.
Google has shown that it will shut down link aggregation services if the economics become less favorable. It killed Google News in Spain in 2014 when the country passed a similar link tax law. The whole EU could be next. Google says that resulted in a drop in traffic to Spanish news sites, which only hurt the struggling industry more.
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