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Euro copyright directive sparks Google change in France… for news


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This week, Music Ally got a notification from Google that from late October, text snippets, video previews and thumbnail images from our website will not be shown in search results in France. We haven’t done anything wrong (we promise!) – this is an alert that anyone designated a ‘European press publication’ is getting, and it’s the result of the new European Copyright Directive, which France has become the first EU member state to implement.

While the music industry focused its attention on the article in the directive relating to user-uploaded content platforms like YouTube, the other controversial article covered online news (or a ‘link tax’ as its opponents branded it, given that it seemed to require search engines like Google’s to pay for the news snippets they displayed in their results). In France, Google is choosing to turn off news snippets by default: while publishers can choose to turn them on again, by doing so they accept that they will not be paid.

Google’s argument is that it wants its organic (as opposed to paid-for) search results to be free of commercial relationships. “That’s why we don’t accept payment from anyone to be included in organic search results and we don’t pay for the links or preview content included in search results,” explains its FAQ for publishers. Google’s search-ranking algorithms won’t be affected by whether news sites turn snippets on or leave them off, but… “Users might; bear in mind that different amounts of preview content may make your pages more or less understandable and noticeable to search users. Consequently, those settings may affect your search referral traffic.”

This isn’t really a music story, aside from the fact that music and music-industry news websites (Music Ally included) will be deciding whether to turn snippets back on – and rule out the payments that the copyright directive attempted to legislate for – or risk their search traffic falling if they don’t but rivals do. (“In Europe alone, people click on the news content Google links to more than 8 billion times a month—that’s 3,000 clicks per second we drive to publishers’ own websites,” blogged Google’s VP, news, Richard Gingras, to sharpen their thinking on this score.)

But the reason we’ve covered the story (and with this prominence) is that it’s an early reminder that the long battle to finalise the copyright directive was just part of the story. How EU states implement it is the next part, and THEN how tech platforms affected by it (like Google) respond will be the conclusion. As yet, it’s the online-news elements of the directive’s implementation in France that are making headlines for what the Columbia Journalism Review describes as Google playing “hardball” with publishers.

We await with interest to see whether the user-uploaded-content elements of the legislation spark anything similar in France. YouTube made it clear earlier this year that it would “analyse each Member State’s implementation legislation” to assess “how we will ensure YouTube is compliant”, with a warning that the legislation could “result in online services over-blocking content to limit legal risk” – including music cover versions. “YouTube might need to block unidentified covers because YouTube will not know if the cover is licensed or unlicensed,” as it put it. There’s no evidence yet of this happening in France, but the news-snippets story is a reminder to keep an eye on the situation.

Stuart Dredge

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