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Google, Facebook And The Australian Newspapers – You Can’t Force People To Pay For Things

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Well, given what government can force us to pay for through taxation – HS2, diversity advisers and Prem Sikka’s HoL expenses – that’s not quite true, it is possible. But if people have the option of simply saying “No, thank you” and pottering off then you cannot force them to pay for something. As, in the extreme, is true of that taxation thing too. If people can flee to Monaco then they’ve not got to pay for Prem Sikka. Something that makes the idea vastly more attractive to be honest.

This being something that the Australian newspapers are about to find out:

Australia will force U.S. tech giants Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay Australian media outlets for news content in a landmark move to protect independent journalism that will be watched around the world.

The argument here is that the newspapers – and it is largely newspapers – have copyright on their product. As indeed they do and that’s great. Facebook and Google then scrape those sites and incorporate parts of them into their own sites. Facebook it’s both the company and the users that post clips of news, Goggle it’s the search engine itself and also the allied service, Google News.

Facebook and Google make money out of ads on pages where that copyright material sits and that’s unfair, as they don’t pass that on to the newspaper.

Pretty open and shut case really.

Except. Google News doesn’t carry advertising so that’s not much money being made. For a lot of the Facebook stuff it is users posting a news link to chat about, that’s not really the company.

But leave all that aside. Anyone who has ever written for the intertubes knows that getting a piece into a good position in either Facebook or Google gains traffic. More people come to your real page as a result of that link. From direct experience it’s possible to gain a couple of hundred thousand page views – that’s the full, original, with your own advertising on it – from being the top G News story. And something that goes viral on Facebook can garner a million views – this has happened, both have happened, to me – and that’s rather a profitable little endeavour.

So the question becomes not the bastards stealing our stuff but which offers more value? The snippets of copyright material being used without payment and thus a loss or the direction of traffic to the full page and the profit?

To demand both the traffic and the copyright payment would sniff rather of cakeism.

But that is what is being demanded. For any newspaper that doesn’t like the current settlement can opt out. There’s a small file called “robots.txt” which every site has. Google reads that file before trying to read and index the site. It’s possible to alter that file to read “Nope, Google, bugger off”. And they will. Which means that the copyright snippets are not included in the search engine – of any type. It also means there’s none of that traffic sent along to see the full page an all the adverts of course.

No one does tell Google to bugger off so clearly the traffic is worth more than the loss on the snippets.

We also have some empirical evidence. Spain passed a law stating that Google News must pay for those snippets to the Spanish newspapers. Google closed down Google News Spain and didn’t the publishers whinge bitterly.

Germany passed a similar law, largely at the instigation of Axel Springer the publishers. Google said OK, we’ll obey it, but we’ll only include in the search engine those people who do not demand payment from us for being included. Axel Springer publications do not demand payment and are in the index.

It’s possible to see something of a pattern developing.

So, a prediction about what will happen. The Australian government will set a price at which Google and Facebook must buy that copyright material from the publishers. FB and GOOG will stop using that material and the publishers while whinge, bitterly.

And no one at all will grasp the essential lesson from this. Market prices are as they are for a reason. Passing a law doesn’t change that reason therefore the law can eradicate a market but not determine prices in one.

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expunct

in British English
expunct (ɪkˈspʌŋkt)
VERB (transitive)
1. to delete or erase; blot out; obliterate
2. to wipe out or destroy

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