In March 2019 a European Parliament vote dictated that, for the first time, publishers will have the opportunity to negotiate with major technology platforms such as Google for use of their content at a fair price. For digital publishers, the two most significant articles in the directive are Article 11 and Article 17 (formerly known as Article 13). The former states that search engines and news aggregation platforms must pay to use third-party content, while the latter makes platform owners responsible for any content posted without a copyright license. 

When first announced, Christian van Thillo, chairman of the European Publishers Council (EPC) claimed the directive “modernises copyright without stifling digital innovation. As press publishers, we would like to thank Europe’s regulators for adopting this important directive that acknowledges the value of the press to society and the need for fair remuneration for the commercial re-use of our intellectual property”.

Google’s response has publishers concerned. France is the first EU country to progress this directive into national legislation, from October 24th. However, as a result, it has become the first nation to fall victim to the directive’s loopholes. Google has refused to pay French publishers for links and has removed snippets and thumbnail images for publishers displaying content in France unless they have specified they wish to have this content shown in search results.

How could this impact publishers?

The intention of the legislation is to improve the rights and revenues of small to medium-size authors, content creators and publishers. But, the response of Google aims to circumvent this – by ‘opting in’ to show snippets and thumbnails, a publisher agrees not to require payment from Google.

After selecting to allow snippets and thumbnails the following message is shown, requiring confirmation.

This property will no longer be treated as a European press publication within the meaning of Directive (EU) 2019/790 on Copyright and Related Rights in the Digital Single Market. To the extent you have rights in this property under current or future laws implementing Article 15 of the Directive, you consent to the display of preview content with no further compensation to you in Google Search, Discover, YouTube, and other search products offered by Google in the European Union and the European Economic Area, and you confirm you have the authority necessary to consent on behalf of the property. You can re-add your property to the list of European press publications at any time through this checkbox. Changes may take a day to take effect.

Here’s how Google articulated their decision:

“At the moment, when we display news results, we show a headline, which links directly to the relevant news site. For some results, we also show you a short preview of the article, such as a few lines of text (also known as a “snippet”) or a small “thumbnail” image. Together, these headlines and previews can help you decide whether a result is relevant to your search, and whether you want to click on it.

When the French law comes into force, we will not show preview content in France for a European news publication unless the publisher has taken steps to tell us that’s what they want. This applies to search results across Google services.”

How should publishers respond?

You may have received an email from Google related to this change, but this email doesn’t explain how to check or change your status. Here’s what you should do.

  1. Find out who in your organisation has access to Google Search Console – this is likely to be handled by your tech team, SEO team, product team or senior editorial team
  2. Ask them to login with this link
  3. Ensure a decision-maker from the business reads over the page and selects the correct option for your publication. Publishers are required to untick the box if it is ticked, ensuring they aren’t included in the list of European press publications
  4. The message mentioned earlier this article will be displayed, requiring confirmation
  5. Should you need to, consult your legal team before ticking or unticking this box

What else should we be aware of?

A politico.eu report estimates that French publishers alone lose up to €320 million per year because of Google and Facebooks’ influence in online advertising. Publishers expected this new legislation to be a significant bargaining chip to use against tech giants publishers feel should compensate their losses. Unless the EU finds a way around Google’s approach this legislation could be limited in scope, and as such, France is planning to create a tech regulator to slap sanctions and fines on the companies.

While unrelated to this change in law, Facebook has reached agreements with major publishers to pay them for content displayed in the upcoming Facebook news tab. Does this mean smaller publishers will start receiving a new revenue stream from Facebook? We’ll have to wait and see.

Further reading:

Google’s European Press Publisher FAQ