Google and Copyright ‘Blackmail’—Data Sheet

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French publishers are seething over Google’s decision to stop including snippets in its search results for news. Google made the decision it would remove the snippets—short blurbs that summarize the story—rather than pay the publishers a fee under a new copyright law. In the view of one French executive, Google’s behavior is “like blackmail.”

Others might describe Google’s decision to yank the snippets another way: commonsense. Faced with a choice of paying every publisher a royalty to show the snippets or simply removing them, Google made the logical business decision to remove them. It’s not the first time Google has done this: When Spain passed a law in 2015 requiring websites to pay for news links, the company shut down Google News in that country.

In the case of Spain, the country’s news publishers—which had pushed for the law—shot themselves in the foot since traffic to their websites declined significantly without Google News. Now, France appears poised to make the same mistake. Screaming “blackmail” does not change the fact the publishers made a poor policy choice by pushing for a subsidy in the form of an ill-conceived copyright law.

The law in question is France’s implementation of an EU directive that lets countries require a copyright license to link to even a few words from a news story. The law is controversial because it appears tilted to favor big publishers (small publishers oppose it because they want the traffic from Google), while also making it harder to share basic information online. Rather than being rooted in traditional copyright law—what the French call droit d’auteur—France’s law appears to be designed for publishers to demand a check from Google.

This isn’t to say Google, as well as Facebook, shouldn’t do more for the news industry. As Adam hasn’t been shy about pointing out, the tech giants have gobbled an enormous share of the advertising dollars that once belonged to traditional news companies—all while ignoring the ethical obligations of being a media platform. But distorting copyright law with onerous linking licenses isn’t the way to solve this. That’s why Google’s decision last week doesn’t amount to blackmail. It’s a rational response to an unreasonable law.

(Thanks for reading. Robert Hackett and I will be filling in for Adam and Aaron, who are out till Wednesday. More news below).

Jeff John Roberts

On Twitter: @jeffjohnroberts



Step into the sunlight. Facebook has fallen short on its plan to share data on disinformation for academics and others to study. In April 2018, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he hoped his company would share its “first results” by the end of that year. Eighteen months later, the 2020 presidential race is kicking into gear and Facebook has struggled to share information for fear of breaching users’ privacy. 

Window-shopping. Browser-makers Google and Mozilla are planning to apply a new standard to “domain name service,” a phonebook-like Internet tool essential for connecting to and loading websites. The move, which would encrypt DNS by default, aims to improve the security and privacy of web browsing. Internet Service Providers, like Comcast and AT&T, stand to lose insights about their customers’ web browsing habits; they argue the change is anticompetitive.

There’s a starman waiting in the sky. At a Sept. 28th event in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk set a characteristically ambitious timeline for his company’s Starship rocket to blast off. “This is going to sound totally nuts, but I think we want to try to reach orbit in less than six months,” he said. A 65,000-foot tall, stainless steel prototype of the spacecraft towered behind him during the press conference.

Securitize this. A coalition of U.S. cryptocurrency exchanges has banded together to create a rating system for evaluating which digital assets regulators are likely to deem securities, and thus unable to be traded on their platforms. Members of the group include Coinbase, Circle, Kraken, and Bittrex. The Securities and Exchange Commission has not endorsed the initiative. 

In the Middle Kingdom. An unnamed source familiar with the financials at ByteDance, the Chinese firm behind the social media phenom TikTok, told CNBC that the company booked revenues of about $8 billion for the first half of the year, beating expectations. Chinese video game maker Tencent took at 29% stake in Funcom, a Norwegian game developer. And Chinese phone-maker Huawei has opened a three-story flagship store in Shenzhen.

Pole-dancing. Google Cloud is opening a new cloud hub in Warsaw, Poland. The business unit’s CEO, Thomas Kurian, said he planned to seize on sales growth in Europe, which is topping every other region globally. 


What more is there to say about WeWork, the hyper-growth, not-a-tech startup sporting an incredible shrinking valuation? A lot, apparently. Add Julie Bort at Business Insider’s chronicling of the firm’s crazed corporate culture to your reading list. She spoke to 20 recent and former WeWork employees about their experience inside the meat-banning, tequila-shooting “non-stop party.”

For [WeWork’s chairman and former CEO Adam] Neumann and anyone who worked for him, WeWork was all consuming, a place where the boundary between work and play not only didn’t exist, but was fused together.

From meetings laden with tequila shots to mandatory company retreats filled with sounds of people having sex, working at WeWork meant signing up for a lifestyle that embraced, to an extreme degree, the no-holds-barred “hustle” culture the company promoted to clients.

The non-stop party, combined with the promise of a big payday, was intoxicating — at least at first.



Got a case of the Mondays? Maybe consider blowing off steam by honking at strangers, wagging your tail-feather, and causing a general ruckus about town. That’s the basic premise of Untitled Goose Game, a video game in which players inhabit an ill-tempered goose who terrorizes a quaint English village.

“People seem to have this very particular relationship with geese,” one of the game’s developers, Nico Disseldorp, told Polygon in a recent interview. “They’re kind of afraid of them. Geese can be really aggressive. They’re a very powerful animal that people have lots of feelings about. But they’re not seen as evil or wicked like a snake or a scorpion.”

Honk if you love this game.

This edition of Data Sheet was curated by Robert Hackett. Find past issues, and sign up for other Fortune newsletters.