Right now a EU Commission proposal is ready to become EU law to make the tech giants pay publishers in Europe if they send eyeballs to watch the newspaper and broadcaster ads. The new link tax is included in a proposal about a new copyright regime in Europe, and it is as stupid as it sounds.
The Directive comes from a German ‘ancillary copyright law‘ that was introduced in 2013. Ultimately the law in Germany was toned down, but now it has come back via an EU directive. It is another example of small publisher thinking, the same thinking that led to things like GEMA’s Germany-wide Youtube ban. All that did was to make Germany an isolated wasteland in the Internet broadcasting revolution.
As Spain can testify from when they tried to build a wall and make Google pay for it, the only thing that happened was that the eyeballs stopped coming to Spanish newspapers and broadcasters. They didn’t gain any money. Instead they lost their audience as Google shut down its Spain section of Google News.
The same will happen to the European Union and to journalism if this comes true. We are already struggling to keep our audience, and we should not make it more difficult for readers and viewers to find us. Our problem is slightly different, and that is that our audience don’t come in large enough numbers, and when they do they use ad blockers. Our problem is that the tech giants devise strategies to keep their users and the ad revenue inside their walled gardens.
So, to focus minds, the problem is not that the tech giants, like Google and Facebook, are sending thousands or millions of viewers and readers to us. Introducing a link tax doesn’t help with keeping the audience once they come to us. What the link tax, and tech giant strategy, does is to keep the audience inside the walled gardens, and there the tech giants are in control. Which is one way to read Mark Zuckerberg’s strange digital journalism manifesto from a little while ago.
In a world controlled by Wayland-Yutani…. Sorry, Facebook and Google, the last thing journalism needs is for billionaires to devise schemes to isolate everyone inside their own filter bubbles (and to keep all the ad revenue this will bring). Remember that Facebook was the company that fired all its human journalistic staff, and replaced them with malfunctioning AI to disastrous effect, and they still persisted with it.
The key thing for journalists (and publishers) to remember is that Google, Facebook, and Twitter aren’t allowing links from out of the goodness of their hearts. They aren’t interested in an informed electorate out of a deep sense of democratic duty. The links, and the content, bring added value to their platforms. They enhance the experience of the platforms’ users. Our products make the experience more valuable.
But, now you say, then we should introduce the link tax? Right? No. It’s still a stupid idea, but it’s not a stupid idea to allow for links but to disrupt the tech industry’s ability to add value. It’s a stupid idea to stop Google News from sending millions of eyes to our websites, but it’s not stupid to ensure that whatever ends up on Facebook and Twitter compel users to come to platforms of our choice.
Journalism’s future lies in its ability to disrupt the tech giants’ walled gardens, and lure their users out of there to ads and stories we control. But it does require that publishers start to innovate and experiment, rather than try to impose dumb laws that will only end with tears and gnashing teeth as the audience disappears. Walls are designed to keep people out, and a link wall will be very effective in doing that. And then, there goes journalism at a time where it’s needed more than at anytime since the 1940s.