EU explores whether Google, Yahoo should pay for showing online news snippets

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union is looking into whether services such as Google News and Yahoo News should pay to display snippets of news articles, wading into a bitter debate between the online industry and publishers.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, said on Wednesday it will consider whether “any action specific to news aggregators is needed, including intervening on the definition of rights.”

The move came as Brussels unveiled plans to loosen copyright rules in the 28-member bloc in order to allow citizens to watch more content online.

Dubbed the “Google Tax”, making online services pay to display news snippets has sparked fierce opposition from both the tech industry and some publishers.

Google News pulled out of Spain when a law was passed that would have forced it to pay for re-publishing headlines or snippets, and in Germany, Axel Springer SE, the country’s top publisher, had to scrap a move to block Google from running snippets of articles from its newspapers because traffic to its sites plunged.

The Commission said it had no plans to tax hyperlinks, but was looking at the situations in France and Spain to see if they were delivering on their objectives. The Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA), whose members include Google (part of Alphabet Inc), Yahoo! Inc and Microsoft Corp, called the idea of a link and snippet tax “ill-founded, controversial and detrimental to all players.”

A group of 12 publishers and their associations including French newspaper Les Echos wrote to the Commission last week urging it not to introduce a Google Tax as it would make it harder for them to be discovered online.

Guenther Oettinger, EU Commissioner responsible for digital affairs, said it was too early to say whether search engines should pay to display snippets and a decision will only be reached by the second quarter of 2016.

Editing by David Holmes