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New details emerge about Google’s payments to link to French news sites


Exterior of Google office building.
Enlarge / Google’s main headquarters.

Google will pay $76 million over three years to 121 French news organizations to comply with a new French law requiring Google to pay when it uses “snippets” from news articles, Reuters reports. The payments range from $1.3 million paid to Le Monde to $13,741 for a local weekly newspaper called La Voix de la Haute Marne.

Reuters notes that “leading national dailies Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation and their respective groups negotiated about €3 million ($3.6 million) each per year on top of this, notably by agreeing in November to sell subscriptions through Google.”

French law gave Google few options

These payments are the result of a shotgun marriage brokered by the French government. Until recently, Google insisted that it wouldn’t pay a penny to link to news articles in France or elsewhere. When Spain passed legislation to force Google to pay to link to Spanish News organizations in 2014, Google responded by shutting down Google News in Spain.

But the latest French legislation left Google with little room to maneuver. France’s competition authority warned that delisting French news sites from Google search results, or removing snippets, would be considered an anticompetitive attack on French newspapers. In effect, the law required Google to use snippets from French news sites and to pay for that use. The only question was how much Google would pay.

Google responded by creating a new product called Google News Showcase and licensing French news content for Showcase. Google’s Showcase licensing deals also cover snippet rights, satisfying the French law. But by bundling these together, Google may have hoped to avoid setting the precedent of paying to directly link to news stories.

France could become an international model

But the strategy doesn’t seem like it is working. The Australian government is considering passing a similar law and seems unbowed by Google’s threat to shut down Google’s search engine nationwide. Microsoft, whose Bing search engine is in the single digits in Australia, has taken full advantage of the controversy, announcing that it would gladly comply with the Australian law. This week, Microsoft President Brad Smith even urged US lawmakers to copy the proposal.

France enacted its law to implement an overhaul of copyright law approved by the European Parliament in 2019—the first EU country to do so. Dozens of other European countries are supposed to implement their own version of the rule in the next few years. Hence, Google’s deal with the French news industry could become a template for the rest of Europe.

Meanwhile, not everyone in the French news industry is happy about the Google deal. L’Alliance de la presse d’information generale, the news industry group that negotiated the deal, only represents some French news organizations. At least one group of publishers that wasn’t part of the deal complained that Google was pursuing a divide-and-conquer strategy.

“These opaque agreements don’t ensure the fair treatment of all news publishers, since the calculation formula isn’t made public,” said Spiil, a union representing independent online news organizations. “Google took advantage of our divisions to advance its interests.”

And while $76 million is hardly a trivial amount of money, it’s not going to make a huge difference to the news organizations that get it. For example, the Le Monde Group, which owns Le Monde and a few other publications had 300 million euros ($360 million) in revenue in 2019. That means Le Monde’s $1.3 million annual payment will be about a third of 1 percent of its publisher’s revenue.



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