By David Chavern
The European Union (EU) is currently considering a copyright law that would give news publishers the ability to protect their content online. This is part of a broader fight publishers are having around the world to establish the core legal rights needed to be compensated for their work.
The online audience for reporting is huge and, in fact, people are consuming more hard news than ever. But outdated laws make it very hard for publishers to protect their work and the investments they make in great journalism. Information may “want to be free” but reporters want to be paid.
Article 11 of the EU Copyright Directive, currently under consideration and set to be voted on soon, would provide news publishers the right to charge for commercial use of their content online—a true sign of Europe’s commitment to the future of news. But they have some powerful opponents, including Google.
Google relies on news publishers for content for its Search pages and Google News product. It has argued that under the Directive it would be affirmatively forced to pay publishers for content, and has even threatened to shut down Google News in response. However, Article 11 would merely allow publishers to negotiate with news aggregators and search engines, and ask for some system of fair compensation for their work. Nothing in the Directive mandates payment by Google.
Other organizations claim that the whole internet would be destroyed by the Copyright Directive. That is ridiculous. The film and music industries hold rights similar to those being sought by the news industry and they have not destroyed the internet—far from it.
Google has also argued that copyright protection for news content would create a “link tax” and would prevent average citizens from sharing links to news stories on social media. The Directive actually explicitly allows sharing of links and articles by consumers. What would be prevented are the extensive “snippets” of information taken from the news articles that are also delivered in search results. According to a 2016 opinion poll, 47 percent of Europeans who access news through news aggregators, social media or search engines, just read the free “snippets” and never click on the links to access the full articles. In short, Google’s vast advertising machine relies on publishers giving away huge amounts of their content for free.
This is obviously not sustainable. No business, including news publishing, can be based upon “free”. Instead of fighting against the Copyright Directive, Google and others should embrace the moment and work with publishers on new ways to ensure compensation for great journalism.
Society relies on news publishers for quality information about the world. Users expect to get that kind of information through Google, and Google wants them to get it. But the current system for online distribution of journalism just isn’t sustainable. This is a chance for Europe to show true international leadership and, hopefully, propel improvements in copyrights laws in the United States and around the world. The Copyright Directive presents a real opportunity for all parties to build a new future for journalism. Let’s drop the threats and fear-mongering and get to that important work.
David Chavern is the president and chief executive officer of the New Media Alliance.