The EU is changing copyright rules so that publishers of news can demand fees from the likes of Google and Facebook for showing snippets of their original content.

Is it fair, but even if it is, is the EU doing little more than whispering in the wind?

Google and Facebook make the most amount of money from the internet advertising – that is a given.  Content providers are left to fight over the scraps. But without them, where would Google and Facebook be?

Of course, not all content we view on the internet is news. News may not be the key reason we use Facebook, but for the two online rivals, news is rather important; take it away and they both lose a major part of their respective businesses.

The EU is looking at changing copyright laws, so that publishers of news will have neighbouring rights –  an aspect of copyright law which usually confers rights on people who were not technically the author of a particular work, such as performers, producers and broadcasters. The change would effectively grant exclusive rights to publishers over their news content.

This means that when, for example, Google, displays snippets from a news item taken from a news publisher, the publisher will have the right to charge Google.

Something similar has been tried before, but by different countries. For example, in Spain, the land of the infamous Google Tax, but Google responded by pulling its news service out of the Spanish market.

There are three sides to this issue that need exploring.

Firstly, there is the practicality of the rule change.  The news publishers won’t be obliged to charge news aggregators.  They may conclude that the traffic, which a listing on Google News brings, is so valuable that it is not worth their while upsetting the status quo.  So if some companies charge news aggregators, but others don’t, the EU rule change loses its teeth.  Google, Facebook and Co. can simply refuse to display content from news publishers who demand payment, and for as long as there are plenty of alternative news providers available, their news service won’t be adversely affected.

Secondly, there is the rights and wrongs. Is the EU right?  On the one hand, you can see why publishers are up in arms, accusing news aggregators of making money from their hard work.  But, on the other hand, services such as Google News provides end users with a fantastic degree of control, democratisation of publishing if you will.  In the past, the priority given to a news story was down to each publisher and editor.  And if you bought a newspaper, you were locked into the particular political agenda of the publisher. Now the user can flip from one news story to the other, for example, obtaining the Telegraph’s view on a story and then the Guardian’s. In theory at least, this makes our consumption of the news a more objective process, although there is some doubt as to whether in practice this really in the case. It also means that position on Google News is determined by popularity.  When we click on a link, we are making that link seem more important in the eyes of Google algorithms.  So by changing the rules, does the EU risk handing back power to the publisher over the reader, does this reverse the tendency towards greater democratisation of publishing? And would this be a good or bad thing?

Finally, there is the clash between the US, where copyright law doesn’t even recognise neighbouring rights, and the more controlled EU approach taken in the EU.

Should we be cheering for the mighty Google, or the mighty EU – Goliath, or Goliath?


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