France needs to back off Google link tax


The French government is threatening Google. If Google doesn't pay French publications to link to their sites, the French will draft legislation forcing them. This is clearly government once again showing a total lack of understanding of anything related to technology, but more importantly, it shows that traditional French media is completely ignorant about the World Wide Web and how it has been designed to work.

It's worth noting that Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) says if they pass a link tax, Google will stop posting links to French publications. Who gets the worst part of that deal?

Whatever you think of Google, it's the most popular search engine in the world. According to Net Market Share, Google controls 85 percent of search market share worldwide. In France, it's closer to 90 percent.

Let's start with the premise, given this dominance, that every publication should want to get Google's attention. I'm a writer. If Google News picks up one of my stories, it translates into traffic and traffic is good. I'm not threatened by the fact that Google has posted a headline and short summary of my piece (which I probably wrote to be picked up by the search engines). In fact, I love it, and any publication that understands the web should embrace it as well.

Rupert Murdoch and former AP CEO Tom Curley have been famous for perpetuating this myth that linking is akin to stealing. The fact is though that even if these guys really believed it, it's a simple matter of blocking the Google indexing bots from finding you. In fact, that's what Murdoch did.

But the idea that linking is stealing, is twisting copyright law in the age of the web far beyond reason. As Jay Rosen explained in this video in 2008, the link is the building block of the web. As he said, "When we link we are expressing the ethic of the web, which is connecting people and knowledge, and the reason you link doesn't have anything to do with copyright and property, it has to do with that's how we build a web of connections, and that's how we connect knowledge to people." 

As Rosen asserted, it's what Tim Berners-Lee, the man who developed the web, had in mind when he created a web of ideas. You want to link to your own work and to other's work (as I've done throughout this piece) because it extends the conversation. It draws attention to the sources of your assertions.

If linking is indeed the basic building block of the web, and I believe it is, then the idea that you would create legislation to discourage linking is a move made out of ignorance at best and at worst, threatens the core values of the web.

France probably believes it's helping to protect its traditional in-country print media, but it's not. It's short-sighted thinking that is going to isolate these publications more than they already are. To be fighting the web and all it brings at this point in the history of the web, after all these years, is the final desperate move of a disrupted industry, that instead of embracing the change and finding ways to make the web work for it, looks for ways to suppress the disruptive force. In the end, the French publishing industry will be big losers, but those of us who value linking, Internet freedom and an open web of ideas and knowledge, are the biggest losers of all if France goes through with this. - Ron