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Proposed copyright rules: bad for small publishers, European consumers and online services

Copyright rules give news publishers rights over how their work is used. Europe is updating these rules for this digital age, and that’s a move Google supports. But the European Parliament’s version of a new copyright directive—specifically Article 11 and its recital 32—will have unintended consequences for smaller news publishers, limit innovation in journalism and reduce choice for European consumers. We urgently call on policymakers to fix this in the final text of the directive.

Let us be clear on one thing: Article 11 seeks to protect journalists and their work, and we agree with that goal. We care deeply about supporting the broader news industry because journalism is critical to the functioning of a free democracy. And we built Google to provide everyone with equal access to information.

However, Article 11 could change that principle and require online services to strike commercial deals with publishers to show hyperlinks and short snippets of news. This means that search engines, news aggregators, apps, and platforms would have to put commercial licences in place, and make decisions about which content to include on the basis of those licensing agreements and which to leave out.

Effectively, companies like Google will be put in the position of picking winners and losers. Online services, some of which generate no revenue (for instance, Google News) would have to make choices about which publishers they’d do deals with. Presently, more than 80,000 news publishers around the world can show up in Google News, but Article 11 would sharply reduce that number. And this is not just about Google, it’s unlikely any business will be able to license every single news publisher in the European Union, especially given the very broad definition being proposed.

This would mostly benefit larger players. One analysis has forecast that in Germany, small publishers would receive less than 1 percent of the revenue generated by a so-called ancillary copyright—whereas the largest publishing group alone would receive 64 percent. Smaller newsrooms and overall online news diversity will be impacted as a result.

Because so much of the conversation in Brussels is driven by larger publishing organizations, the small publishers who raise this concern are not heard. Why are large influential companies constraining how new and small publishers operate? Particularly at a time when news business models continue to evolve, new, small, and innovative publishers need flexibility. The proposed rules will undoubtedly hurt diversity of voices, with large publishers setting business models for the whole industry. This will not benefit all equally.

Not only might this harm individual news publishers, it also seriously risks reducing consumers’ ability to discover and access a diversity of views and opinions. Unlike people in other parts of the world, European citizens may no longer find the most relevant news across the web, but rather the news that online services have been able to commercially license. We believe the information we show should be based on quality, not on payment. And we believe it’s not in the interest of European citizens to change that.

Today we drive economic value to publishers by sending people to news sites over 10 billion times a month. That free traffic has enabled many smaller or emerging publishers to get discovered, grow a business, and find success online. A Deloitte study found that each user visit was worth on average between €0.04 and €0.08 to publishers. That means real business value to European publishers, every year.

We recognize the news industry is undergoing substantial change as publishers around the world transition to digital. We’ve been working with EU institutions to develop workable solutions that benefit journalists and publishers. We’ve invested in creating tools to help publishers increase subscription revenue and enable mobile sites to be much faster, so that they can grow their audiences and their revenue. Thousands of news publishers use Google advertising services where they retain 70 percent and more of the revenue that’s generated.

There is a way to avoid the unintended consequences of Article 11. The copyright directive should give all publishers the right to control their own business models and destiny by giving them the choice to waive the need for a commercial license for their content. Publishers— big and small—should continue to be able to make their own choices about how their content can be discovered and how they want to make money with that content. The exact language of the new rules is being determined in the next few weeks. Now is not the time to stifle innovation in news or limit access to quality journalism.

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