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Google Won’t Pay French Publishers Copyright Fees, Will Instead Limit Content In Search Results

After an extensive public debate last year, the European Parliament passed a sweeping new Copyright Directive that was very controversial. This directive was intended to both harmonize and modernize EU copyright law, as well as generate licensing revenue for authors and publishers from big internet companies like Facebook and Google. The first country in the EU to implement the new rules domestically was France.

According to Google, the company won’t pay French publishers the expected copyright licensing fees. Rather, Google will show links and “very short” extracts of news content, which isn’t going to run afoul of the law (Article 15, formerly Article 11). The law seeks to capture licensing fees when there are more than links and a few words are displayed by third party news aggregators.

In a blog post, Google defended itself and pointed out the benefits it provides to publishers and its support of journalism. Google News VP Richard Gingras said, “[W]e don’t accept payment from anyone to be included in search results. We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That’s also why we don’t pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result.” He added, “To operate in any other way would reduce the choice and relevance to our users—and would ultimately result in the loss of their trust in our services.”

In a related French-language post (also by Gingras) the company said, “When the French law comes into force, we will no longer display an overview of the content in France for European press publishers unless the publisher has made the arrangements to indicate that it is his wish. This will be the case for search results from all Google services.” (Translated by Google.)

In a nutshell, Google is giving the publishers the ability to explicitly opt-in to have more content presented on the SERP. The company created a set of webmaster guidelines that French, as well as all European publishers, can use to communicate how much of their news content to show in the SERP. This will function as a waiver of their licensing rights under the Copyright Directive.

The same thing happened in Germany and Spain roughly five years ago. When a similar German copyright law took place, publisher Axel Springer saw a massive decline in search traffic through the loss of snippets on its articles, which Google stopped showing in order to not pay fees, Springer as well as other German publishers, went to Google, wanting their snippets back.

Google showed what EU news SERPs might look like under the new directive earlier this year. The stripped-down pages had links but no copy or images, incomplete story titles and site titles without any context.

SourceGreg Sterling

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