France must decide if Google can be forced to negotiate

The Paris Court of Appeal will rule on Thursday, October 8 on whether the country’s competition authority was empowered to force Google to negotiate with the French press on the so-called “neighboring rights” that allow publishers online newspapers to be paid for publishing excerpts from their articles on Google News.At a time when advertising revenue is massively absorbed by the big names in digital in France and Europe, here is an update on the main issues.

What are the neighboring rights?

This copyright-like principle is designed to help newspaper and magazine publishers, as well as news agencies, receive payments from global internet giants when their content is reused online.

It was established by article 15 of the European copyright directive, adopted by the European Parliament at the end of March 2019 after an intense lobbying battle, the conditions of use and prices still to be negotiated between the publishers of press and platforms.

France is the first EU member state to apply this reform after quickly transposing the directive into national law on July 24, 2019.

Google wants to circumvent France’s neighboring rights

Google, the American digital giant, does not want to pay its due when the European directive on copyright comes into force in France. The online platform prefers to edit Google News rather than paying online news publishers. EURACTIV France reports.

Why are the French press and Google in conflict?

Google is unwilling to pay publishers for the snippets and thumbnails it includes on its search results page, arguing that this generates huge traffic for publishers. According to the American giant, the traffic is sufficient to pay them.

Publishers, for their part, believe that Google itself has become a producer of content with its search results pages, which capture the user’s attention and can thus be monetized.

To avoid paying these “neighboring rights”, Google asks publishers to accept that their extracts and thumbnails are included for free on the results page. If the editors decline, Google will continue to display snippets and links, but in a more restricted form.

Why the Paris Court of Appeal?

In November 2019, French publishers filed a complaint against the American giant before the French Competition Authority for abuse of a dominant position.

Pending a decision on the merits, the authority has already forced Google to start negotiations in “good faith” with publishers on the remuneration of their content, a decision which has already been the subject of a recourse by Google.

If the American giant has had talks with publishers, the latter believe that the American giant has not really negotiated “in good faith”.

What is at stake for Google?

If the appeals court ruled in favor of Google, the tech company would no longer be required to negotiate with newspaper publishers.

However, the French Competition Authority could still rule on the merits of the abuse of dominant position case, which should be closed no later than early 2021.

If, on the contrary, the American company were to lose, the imposed negotiation process will be validated and Google will remain under pressure.

To break the deadlock, the appointment of a mediator was considered.

A Franco-French dispute?

The issue of web platforms paying for press content is an issue that has been raised around the world. Australia, for example, wants to force Google and Facebook to pay for its media.

On Thursday, October 1, Google Chairman Sundar Pichai announced a billion dollar spending plan to improve the incomes of news publishers around the world through license payments.

According to Google, this new proposal is part of what was put on the table during discussions with French publishers on “neighboring rights”.

Which French publishers are concerned?

Google discussed neighboring rights with the Alliance de la presse d’Information générale, which represents the national and regional daily press, the magazine Syndicat des éditeurs de la presse, which represents the main magazine press groups in France, and with the ‘Agence France Press (AFP).

The independent online news press union, which brings together media such as Context, Mediapart, NextINpact, the medical press agency APM, rejects the principle of “neighboring rights”.

They say the principle is a bit like a “chimera”, calling instead for “real equality of treatment in the digital distribution of the press”.

One Year of EU Copyright Reform: Does the Internet Still Work?

A year ago, European copyright law was reformed with strong protests and with a narrow majority in the European Parliament. Germany is still working on implementation, but civil society is already preparing to fight the directive in court. EURACTIV Germany reports.

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