Google ran an experiment last month “to understand what the impact of the proposed EU Copyright Directive would be to our users and publisher partners.”  In the news search results, you could see links, but there wasn’t any descriptions or images, and there were incomplete story titles and site titles without any context.

The experiment previewed changes in the SERPs that Google intends to make in response to Article 11 of the Directive, which requires search engines and news aggregators to pay licensing fees when snippets of third-party publisher content are presented.

The aim of the directive is to “harmonize” copyright law across Europe (and subsidize publishers).  There was praise by a number of large European publishers, but at the same time, it criticized free-speech advocates and a number of smaller online publishers.

Potential post-Article 11 SERP

According to Google’s blog post “all versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers.” The company explained, “where we showed the publication title, URL, and video thumbnails,” there was a 45 percent traffic reduction to news sites.

Google is saying this is “another unintended consequence of legislation that aims to support high-quality journalism.”

It is being suggested by Google that Article 11 will allow traditional SERPS with “limited previews—whether text-based snippets or other visual formats like thumbnail photos,” to encourage clicks.  The company also wants publishers to have options to waive licensing fees.

Some of the proponents of Article 11 might fear waivers would results in some SERPs that prioritized sites that have waived fees.  But, according to Google, it says, “If it’s only payment, and not quality, that decides which headlines users get to see, the results would be bad for both users and smaller and emerging publishers.”

It seems pretty obvious that Google had anticipated that the naked SERP experiment would yield a smaller number of clicks to publishers, which would help make the argument that Article 11 language should change.  At the same time, publishers aren’t able to force Googel to show their content in order to extract licensing fees.

I’m sure there are better approaches that can be negotiated than the one about that is going to be implemented.  The social-policy issue of supporting journalism could be separated from the discussion surrounding balancing copyright interests with “fair use” of news content in SERPs.

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