Google Search Results Will Look Naked Under New EU Copyright Laws


Those who find their news through Google may be in for a shock when the new EU copyright laws concerning news article snippets comes into effect, in the form of barren search result pages that show links and nothing more, or "naked pages". This is a result of, among other factors, Article 11 of this new copyright directive. If nothing changes, the Copyright Directive's finalized language will be released next week, and the process of a final vote, and possibly putting it into law, can begin.

Background: For the uninitiated, Copyright Directive is a sweeping set of EU-based copyright reform laws made to overhaul copyright for the digital age. This set of laws would have effects worldwide, not the least of which would be increasing the burden on large companies like Google and Facebook who are normally responsible for news articles getting around on the web.

Article 11 of the Copyright Directive is particularly rocky; it forces any company who shows a link to a news article with so much as a title to pay a licensing fee. This means that anybody operating a site that hosts links to news articles, such as a social media, search engine, or news aggregation and discovery website, would have to either blank results out or pay up, and keep careful track of all of those payments.


Article 13 is just as far-reaching, and just as irksome for small and large web entities alike. It essentially says that the current systems for detecting copyrighted content being uploaded and ensuring that the copyright holders get paid are not enough. Instead, this law demands that all web entities keep a close eye out for copyrighted content, and work directly with copyright holders and their representatives in doing so.

To give a couple of examples, we'll start with social media. Many users choose, for one reason or another, to use a copyrighted character, perhaps from an anime or video game, as their avatar. Social media sites, forums, and the like would be required to watch closely for that sort of behavior, and make sure that copyright holders know about each instance. The same can be said of copyrighted content on YouTube, or in Facebook posts, for example.

Article 11 mentions that the copyright fees for news articles must be paid and cannot be voluntarily waived, meaning that the Googles and Twitters of the world would have to pay the news outlets if their stories are shared, surfaced, or otherwise featured. Even if a news outlet wanted to, it could not refuse to demand this money.


A law similar to Article 11 came out in Spain not too long ago, and Google responded by simply shuttering its News product in the country wholesale. Publishers lobbied to have politicians try to force Google to keep Google News open, but with Google being an American company, any action it takes that's not discriminatory or exploitative in nature essentially did not fall under the purview of Spanish law.

Impact: There are a few ways this law's rollout could go overall, though it's worth mentioning that interpretation and implementation will be left up to member states. If all goes according to plan, Google will simply begin reaching out to every news publisher it features and paying up.

If all goes as planned and online entities start to pay news publishers for the stories they feature, a new era of prosperity may overtake the online news scene. Revenues would be far higher than what's currently seen through ads or paywalls alone, theoretically, and the system would work similarly to how radio play royalties are paid out to musicians.


Things could also go horribly wrong, of course. Article 11 would place a terrible financial burden on smaller companies that surface or link to news, while nothing in the provision prevents bigger companies like Google from simply packing up shop, as it did in Spain. Similarly, letting users enter their search terms and then choose from a list of links with no further context may also be on the menu, as seen in the screenshots below. Those were obtained via a test of sorts, wherein Google simulated compliance with Article 11, without paying anything to publishers.

Without the money to pay those mandatory fees, that's the kind of behavior that smaller search, media, and news aggregation sites may resort to. Entities like Digg, DuckDuckGo, and Mastodon may jump to mind, but independent app creators and owners of tiny sites and blogs would also be forced to either blank links out or pay up.

On the matter of smaller entities, small publishers and news outlets could also end up suffering. Many of those sorts of entities came out against Article 11 of the Copyright Directive, clashing with rallying support from larger publishers. The reason for that is that the fee is compulsory, and the copyright owner cannot choose to waive it. This means that sites may simply decide that articles from smaller sources aren't worth the money and either selectively blank them out or ditch them outright.


We could even end up in a scenario where Google and others begin charging news outlets to appear in their search results. This, obviously, throws smaller outlets and publishers under the bus. While that scenario is highly unlikely, it's certainly not illegal. The same can be said of a number of potential nightmare scenarios involving potential censorship, online classism, and the limitation of consumer choice.

This risky new law was drafted up in no small part to save Europe's struggling news industry as print revenues continued to plunge and online ad revenues weren't enough to make up for it. This saving throw could be enough to make the web worth it for publishers in the EU, or it could cause any number of large-scale issues. Only time will tell if Copyright Directive will turn the internet into a barren wasteland, or enrich publishers as planned.