Explained: Google Paying French News Companies For Use Of Content Online
Google has come to an agreement with a group of French publishers over payment for reusing their news content.
The US technology giant has tussled with news publishers in different countries for more than a decade on this matter.
The French deal may now open doors to similar remuneration in other countries.
Google has been an expressway for content published by news organisations. The technology company has made it easy for people to access news (among other things) on its search and news aggregator portals while profiting from it by displaying advertisements alongside the content.
This model has benefited both parties – Google and news publishers – for a long time, but media houses have taken exception to it since as far back as the mid-2000s and demanded change.
News companies in several countries have said that they produce content that Google uses free of cost and makes money off while they end up starved of revenue.
This concern is now reaching its logical conclusion in one country, France, as Google has reached an agreement with French news publishers on remuneration in return for re-sharing their news content.
Snippets of French news articles will soon be shared in a new Google product called Google News Showcase, available now only in Brazil and Germany and set for a wider roll-out, and the news companies will be paid for the use of their content.
"This is a major step which has been taken today: it is the culmination of many months of negotiations within the framework determined by the Competition Authority," The Alliance de la Presse d'Information Générale, an association of French press publishers, said on 21 January, the day of the announcement.
French publishers and Google have been going back and forth for many months on the issue of pay for online content.
The American technology company had been arguing against making a payment for sharing news because it said it helped bring more traffic to websites.
But, eventually, the intervention of the French competition watchdog (Autorité de la concurrence) and an appeals court led to talks between Google and the publishers.
Now, an agreement has been worked out to compensate news agencies; however, what this compensation will be is still unclear. The extent of pay will be decided separately with each news provider through individual licensing agreements.
The news release by the French media association says the criteria for remuneration will be based on, "for example, the contribution to political and general information, the daily volume of publications or the monthly Internet audience".
Google is said to have already reached agreements with several major French publishers, including Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Libération.
The tussle between Google and news publishers is more than a decade old. Early push-back against Google's news-sharing came from European countries Belgium, Spain, and Germany.
Belgium took up the fight in 2006.
The newspaper copyright management company Copiepresse, representing local French- and German-language newspapers, sued Google for copyright infringement.
The concern was over the links to newspaper stories shared online on Google News. The legal battle ran until 2012 with Google losing out to Copiepresse every step of the way.
In 2013, the scene shifted to Germany. The country introduced the Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger ("ancillary copyright for press publishers"), which extended the rights of news publishers over their content and its use by third parties (like Google).
Even before the passing of the bill, Google spokesman Kay Oberbeck had said, "This is a black day for the Internet in Germany." News publishing groups, however, were happy.
Then, in 2014, a similar regulation took shape in Spain. However, this time, Google took exception to the law and shut down its news service in the country. It said that “the new approach [of mandatory paid licensing]" was "simply not sustainable”.
These three early experiments with making Google (and news aggregators) pay for using news content didn't work well for the publishers despite that being the aim.
In Spain, publishers faced a decrease in traffic to their websites and there was no rise in earnings. News consumption among Google users fell too and small-scale publishers suffered the most.
In the case of Belgium, Copiepresse's victory didn't turn out sweet because news websites had faced a decrease in traffic. News content then had to be reinstated on Google.
Then, in 2019, came the copyright reform in the European Union.
The European Parliament voted (348 in favour to 274 against) to pass the new copyright rules. France was the first country to adopt the rules and has, therefore, pressed forward to implement them.
Therefore, Google and news publishers are making progress on recognising the copyright of publishers and determining the pay.
Away from Europe, Google is facing off against the Australian government over the same online news reuse matter.
However, the technology company is taking a hard stance down under. The legislation now before the Australian parliament, if passed, would force Google, and also Facebook, to enter into negotiations with news media companies to arrive at a sum to pay for the use of news content.
The technology companies have said that the terms of the legislation are "unworkable" and have threatened consequences if the law were to be passed – Google would withdraw access to its search engine in the country and Facebook would block news from the feeds of Australian users.
Google is already said to have removed some prominent news sites off its search results as part of an "experiment".
The Australian government is, however, unfazed. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said "it is inevitable that the digital giants will be paying for original content".
Google's trouble in Australia is that the company, as per the 'News Media Bargaining Code', will be required to pay to show links, in addition to snippets, in search.
This complicates things and, in fact, goes to the heart of how we have been using the internet all these years.
The inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee, has chimed in saying the Australian proposal "would undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web and is inconsistent with how the web has been able to operate over the past three decades”.
"This provision in the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business, and the digital economy. It’s not compatible with how search engines work, or how the internet works,..." said Google Australia’s Managing Director, Mel Silva, at a public hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee on 22 January 2021.
She has proposed amendments in three areas to make the Code workable.
In that sense, what is expected of Google and other technology companies in France is different from than in Australia.
In any case, other European nations are sure to start moving in the direction of ratifying the new copyright rules. They will have time until June to make that happen.
Going by the precedent set in the French case, Google will likely be paying news publishers in different countries for using their content online – apparently as long as the expectations are reasonable.
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