The beginning of the end is finally here. The internet, as we know it, is about to die.
Well, you may feel that way if you’re a small news platform in Europe. Or Google.
The EU Copyright Directive, a piece of European legislation that was recently backed by MEPs, is set to come into effect within the next couple of years once individual member states approve the decision.
What is the cause for concern?
Article 11 and Article 13 are the two clauses within the legislation that are causing the most controversy.
Article 11 aims to ensure that search engines and news aggregate platforms should pay when large snippets from news providers are displayed on their websites. Text links from news outlets should be fine and will not need a license. This has been commonly referred to as “link tax”.
Article 13 targets larger technology companies responsible for curating content that may infringe upon existing copyright licenses. Platforms such as YouTube and Facebook will need to monitor content uploads and filter potentially contravening material before it can be published online.
While tech companies such as YouTube attempt to remove copyright-infringing music and videos after they have been published, the new law will mean that, inevitably, content filters will need to be in place to stop content before it can be published. There are concerns about the effectiveness and accuracy of filters and, of course, the implications of internet censorship and freedom of speech.
What does this mean for Digital Content?
With the removal of so-called ‘safe harbour’ provisions – as originally enshrined in the American DMCA law – website owners currently have the opportunity to remove copyrighted content when notified by a rights holder, without being personally liable.
Under Article 13 however, they will be liable for any infringing content that a third-party uploads. As a result, if someone plans to use any form of crowd-sourcing or allow user-generated content, they will need to have a robust plan to ensure that no copyrighted media is published.
Consequently, this puts most of the control over content into the hands of large corporations. With the EU Copyright Directive, the EU has effectively washed their hands of any control over the content filters that may be implemented, stating that it is up to the individual platforms to decide on how to filter the content. Since there are currently no reliable technical solutions to copyright filtering – and any attempt at filtering will be incredibly expensive to implement – moving the legal origin of the website out of the Eurozone may be one of the only reliable options.
Another fear is that the new laws may inadvertently push out the legitimate use of copyrighted material. These businesses will have to make the call on what is copyright infringement and what content is allowed under fair use – something that most platforms will not be qualified to make.
Does this impact SEO and Digital Marketing?
Any time a news or article link is displayed on Google, or shared on a platform such as Facebook, information such as the article’s headline, intro text and a featured image is typically displayed. However, some websites “scrape” more information from the article and display it for users to preview before they click through to the news article. Google often does this within search results to provide extra information around a topic to help answer the query a user searched for.
EU legislators want the individual content publishers to receive compensation for having this extra information displayed on the larger platforms. However, where they will draw the line on what is “extra” information is unclear.
This also raises questions over how search engines will handle particular search features in the future. Google has, over time, increased significantly the amount of answer boxes and featured snippets it has been providing within search results for users. See the box below for an example of an answer box appearing within search results.
If Google or other search engines now have to license information they crawl and display in features on their platforms, will they begin to significantly reduce the number of external sites they feature in these boxes?
Will they be forced to use content from platforms they have agreed licenses with?
This could hinder the opportunity for smaller brands to be featured in snippets such as those above, and most certainly within Google news results.
Without a doubt we will see a large amount of upheaval in the structure of search results in the future, with the potential for Google to remove its news platform from the entirety of Europe as it has done for Spain.
Are external websites impacted by this?
At the beginning of the year Google ran an experiment within its search listings to “understand what impact of the proposed EU Copyright Directive would be to our users and publisher partners”. Within this experiment Google presented news search results with links but with little, or no, descriptive text or images. They found that “all versions of the experiment resulted in substantial traffic loss to news publishers”.
Changes from this legislation could cause a massive upheaval in the layout of Google search pages, particularly those featuring news results. While larger news platforms will be fine without Google providing extra visibility, smaller news providers will struggle to get the visibility that a large content aggregator such as Google provided and ultimately lose out.
What should I do?
While we still have time to reflect on the impact of the changes, there will certainly be some change in the future. Changes in the UK depend on whether Brexit happens and what agreement the UK has in regards to this particular piece of legislation.
We still don’t know the full impact that this legislation will have on social sharing and content curation on the larger tech platforms, or how the large tech platforms will choose to filter content.
What we do know, however, is that producing your own unique and original content will always provide value for your brand and for users.
For more advice about how you can create unique content for your brand, get in touch.