27 September 2023

Yesterday’s news: Why Google will shelve all the news that’s fit to print

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Isobel Asher Hamilton* says Google is prepared to ruthlessly shut down its news service if it is stung by sweeping new European copyright laws.

Google’s top news executive has hinted that the company is prepared to shut down Google News in Europe if it is stung by new EU legislation.

Richard Gingras, Google’s Vice President of News, told The Guardian that he won’t rule out switching off the news service in response to the EU’s proposed crackdown on online copyright infringement, referred to as the “Link Tax.”

The “Link Tax” refers to Article 11, a piece of legislation backed by the EU in September, which would force companies such as Google to hold a licence to link to publishers.

The legislation including Article 11 was proposed in July, but was rejected following criticism that it was too sweeping.

Article 11 was amended so that hyperlinks to articles with an “individual word” description would not be penalised, and journalists would be entitled to remuneration by their publishers if their articles are used by news aggregators.

The legislation faces a final vote in early 2019.

Gingras said the future of Google News in Europe will depend on whether the EU is willing to change the language around Article 11.

“We can’t make a decision until we see the final language,” he said.

Gingras added that while it is “not desirable to shut down services,” Google is concerned by the proposals as they stand at the moment.

He also pointed out that this would not be the first time Google has shuttered its news service.

In 2014, the Spanish Government introduced similar legislation forcing aggregation sites to pay for links to news articles, and Google responded by shutting down its news service in Spain, where it is still inactive.

Gringas told The Guardian this led to a fall in traffic to Spanish news websites.

“We would not like to see that happen in Europe,” Gingras told The Guardian.

“Right now, what we want to do is work with stakeholders.”

He emphasised that Google News is not a massively profitable part of the company’s business, but is a valuable social tool for users.

“There’s no advertising in Google News,” Gringas said.

“It is not a revenue-generating product to Google.”

“We think it’s valuable as a service to society.”

“We are proud to have it as part of the stable of properties that people have.”

This isn’t the first time Google has pushed back against the EU’s new copyright legislation.

Along with Article 11, the EU introduced Article 13, which would require companies like Reddit, Facebook, and Google-owned YouTube to monitor and remove copyright infringement on their platforms.

YouTube CEO, Susan Wojcicki pushed back against Article 13 in a recent Financial Times op-ed, saying EU residents were at risk of being “cut off” from videos on the site.

In a statement, a Google spokeswoman said it was too early to speculate on how the EU laws will impact Google News.

She said: “As Richard Gingras explained in his interview with The Guardian, there are several versions of the European copyright directive that are being discussed, and it’s too early to speculate about how the final version of the directive would impact our products.”

“We welcome the chance to work with policymakers and the industry to find a solution that benefits journalists and publishers — big and small, old and new.”

* Isobel A. Hamilton is a Tech Fellow at Business Insider UK. She tweets at @Hamilbug.

This article first appeared at www.businessinsider.com.au.

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