Google Halts News Snippets For French Users

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Controversial European copyright law results in French users losing the ability to view Google news snippets

Google has made a change for users in France, after the European Union passed a controversial copyright law reform earlier this year.

After a long battle, the European Parliament in March this year had backed the copyright reforms that aim to close loopholes that had allowed big tech companies such as Google and Facebook to provide news from third-party sources without paying for it.

Now users in France will stop being able to view news snippets from European publishers on search results.

The European Commission. Image credit: European Commission
European Commission

French news

Google announced the decision in a blog post (in French), and said the decision was to ensure it complies with the new copyright law.

The rule change had been intended to curb online firms such as Google, YouTube and Instagram, which were seen as benefiting from copyrighted content at publishers’ expense.

Going forward, French web users will only be able to see the headlines, and not the first few lines or a thumbnail image for news content, unless of course the publishers specifically give permission for it to show previews.

The European initiative’s Article 11 allows publishers to charge platforms that feature more than short excerpts of articles.

The change could have a potentially large impact for French publishers, as traditionally publishers have relied on visibility on Google’s websites to drive traffic to their own websites, which in turn boosts the amount of money the publishers can actually charge advertisers, and subscriptions as well.

It remains to be seen how effective the new European copyright reform laws will be. Spain for example tried to implement a similar measure in 2014, but Google simply turned its news service off in that country.

In Germany, meanwhile, Google opted to feature only content from those who agreed to provide it for free.

That resulted in traffic for German publisher Axel Springer plunging, after it sought to block the search engine.

The reason why Google has taken this action in France, is that France is the only EU country so far to implement the bloc’s far-reaching copyright reforms. Other European countries have a year to follow suit and implement the law.

Controversial reform

The European copyright law reform was always controversial.

The initiative’s Article 17 (previously Article 13) also attempts to ensure that creators are paid for copyrighted content by holding online platforms responsible for copyright violations.

Critics say Article 17, while well-intentioned, could further cement the dominance of the biggest online services providers, such as Google, who can afford to operate expensive filtering systems.

Some also say the reforms could kill off user-generated content, which often makes use of copyrighted material, although lawmakers say the directive does not apply to such uses.

With the law’s passage, member states now have a two-year period in which to implement it, intended to ensure there is a maximum of legal clarity and that smaller platforms are protected from unintended consequences.

The directive has been backed by publishers and creators, with large tech firms amongst those fiercely lobbying against it.

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