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45% traffic decline to news publishers due to EU’s Article 11, Google reveals

Last month, we shared Google’s “test” screenshots showing what would happen if the proposed EU Copyright Directive came into effect. It showed a digital “ghost town” with a Google logo on top; no copy, no images, scant text, and some links without context.

Now the numbers are in, and it’s not a pretty picture either.

45% reduction in traffic to news publishers

“Even a moderate version of the experiment (where we showed the publication title, URL, and video thumbnails) led to a 45 percent reduction in traffic to news publishers,” said Kent Walker, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs.

Our experiment demonstrated that many users turned instead to non-news sites, social media platforms, and online video sites—another unintended consequence of legislation that aims to support high-quality journalism.

Kent Walker, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs

Google said that it ran the experiment with a small percentage of users in the EU to understand the impact of the proposed EU Copyright Directive on users and publisher partners, “if we could show only URLs, very short fragments of headlines, and no preview images.” All versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers, they found.

Considering that Google sends more than 50% of referral traffic to publishers, Google’s visual demonstration of what a dystopian future might look like had its intended effect. Soon after, eleven countries in the EU voted against the latest draft version of the Directive, and the Directive’s scheduled approval meeting was cancelled.

“Unintended consequences”

“In the next few days, European legislators meet to decide on a final text of the European Copyright Directive,” Google says in its post titled Now is the time to fix the EU copyright directive, also explaining why the company chose to release the numbers at this point.

While reiterating their support in updating copyright legislation for the digital age, they nevertheless warned of “unintended consequences” should the legislation go through.

The draft text continues to generate debate—and we have shared our concerns about its unintended consequences.

“Searches on Google even increased as users sought alternate ways to find information,” said Kent, citing another example of the unintended consequences of the proposed EU Copyright Directive, in which the search giant benefits rather than news publishers.

Articles of contention

To recap, these are the most contentious clauses in the proposed law:

  • Article 11 would require Google, Microsoft and other news aggregators to pay publishers for displaying news snippets. (Note: Earlier when snippet taxes were introduced in Spain and Germany, publishers reported plunging traffic on their sites.)
  • Article 13 would require online platforms like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others to monitor and to install filters to prevent users from uploading copyrighted materials, which critics say could lead to censorship.

Cited below are Google’s points of view on what might happen if the proposed EU Copyright Directive came into effect.

Let’s start with Article 13. The Parliament’s version would hold internet services directly liable for any copyright infringement in the content that people share on their platforms. We stand by our conviction that the draft rules aren’t carefully balanced, and would harm the thriving creative economy in Europe, including YouTube’s creator community.”

Then there’s Article 11. We reiterate our commitment to supporting high-quality journalism. However, the recent debate shows that there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of headlines and snippets—very short previews of what someone will find when he or she clicks a link. Reducing the length of the snippets to just a few individual words or short extracts will make it harder for consumers to discover news content and reduce overall traffic to news publishers.”

“Scaremongering”

Not everyone agrees with Google’s interpretation, though. Earlier in a joint statement, the European Media Management Association, European Newspaper Publishers’ Association, European Publishers Council and News Media Europe claimed that Google had “intensified its scaremongering” about the possible impact of a new neighboring right for press publishers.

“[Google] wants to portray a doomsday scenario that would never happen,” said Angela Mills Wade, Executive Director of the European Publishers’ Council. “It’s an interpretation that is distorted in order to provide a picture which makes it look worse than it is.”

“Results would be bad for publishers”

Google has suggested “a better way forward,” saying that instead of a sweeping rule banning the use of even “individual words” or “very short extracts” without a specific contract, Article 11 should permit the sharing of facts and the use of traditional limited previews—whether text-based snippets or other visual formats like thumbnail photos—which provide needed context for web users.

It’s not realistic to expect that online services would be able to put commercial licenses in place with every single news publisher. If it’s only payment, and not quality, that decides which headlines users get to see, the results would be bad for both users and smaller and emerging publishers.

Kent Walker, Google’s SVP of Global Affairs

Google points out this debate is not just about big tech companies, and that small publishers, civil rights organizations, academics, start-ups, creators, and consumers—with over 4.5 million people signing a Change.org petition that asks legislators to reconsider the Directive—all agree that the stakes are high, and the details matter.

“We call upon policy makers to listen to their ideas, and to find a solution that promotes rather than limits the creative economy,” it concludes.


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