Google agrees to pay 6 French publishers for content under neighbouring rights law

By L. Carol Christopher

INMA

Pleasant Hill, California, USA

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After years of uncertainty for French publishers and the future of neighbouring rights in Europe, six French news publishers agreed late last week to individual remuneration offers from Google. Le Monde, Courrier International, L’Obs, Le Figaro, Liberation, and L’Express are the first named signatories. 

“We have signed several individual agreements, which reflect the principles of universality, transparency, and respect for the law on which we rely in our discussions …,” said Google France Chief Sebastien Missoffe on Google’s blog. The announcement comes about a month after a Paris appeals court ruled Google must continue to negotiate with French news publishers over “neighbouring rights.”

Francis Morel, former CEO of Les Échos/Le Parisien and former president of Syndicat Presse Quotidienne Nationale, said in an e-mail interview with INMA: “It’s the first time that Google has agreed to pay for the use of publishers’ content. That’s a very important act from Google and an important victory for French publishers: Google hereby admits, for the first time, that use of content implies payment.”

Terms and further negotiations

Industry experts are scrambling to determine what it all means. According to Google’s brief statement, “This advance makes it possible to remunerate press publishers in France under the law on neighbouring rights, according to objective, transparent, and non-discriminatory criteria, such as the publisher’s contribution to political and general information, its volume publication daily, its monthly Internet audience, as well as the use of content on our sites.” 

Although details are still unknown, industry experts think the move by Google in France bodes well for news media publishers in other countries to receive payment for content.
Although details are still unknown, industry experts think the move by Google in France bodes well for news media publishers in other countries to receive payment for content.

“The publications that will take profit from this agreement will be the ones dealing with political and general interests subjects (in France, what we call IPG, i.e., Information Politique et Générale),” Morel said. 

Signatories were enthusiastic about what the agreements mean for their organisations – and their relationship with the U.S.-based tech giant: 

Alain Weill, president of L’Express, said in the Google statement, “This agreement covering neighbouring rights opens a new chapter in our collaboration with Google and allows us to offer Internet users a new enriched experience thanks to News Showcase.” 

Louis Dreyfus, chairman of the management board at Le Monde, was also quoted in the Google statement: “We welcome this agreement signed with Google, which covers our neighbouring rights and is part of a strategy to accelerate the transformation of our Group's economic model. This agreement provides an additional source of funding for the development of Le Monde Group … while preserving the strict independence of our editorial staff, which is our main asset.” 

The exact terms of the agreements have not been made public, but according to Le Monde, “The agreements cover neighbouring rights to excerpts from articles now indexed in its general search engine and its news search engine (Google News), as well as the publication of content in its entirety,” 

Google’s Missoffe elaborated on the benefits, highlighting how the agreements will address long-standing publisher demands, writing: “These agreements … open access to the new News Showcase license programme, which will allow readers to access enriched content and publishers to develop an even closer relationship with their readership, while benefiting from additional conditions of remuneration of their contents.”

Also included in the Google statement was this comment from Marc Feuillée, CEO of the Figaro group: “Discussions with Google have enabled us to agree on the remuneration of our neighboring rights and participation in News Showcase, a new service that will allow us to offer our Internet users an enriched experience on Google sites.” 

The News Showcase licensing programme, announced last month, will feature “story panels” — as opposed to snippets. The programme, Missoffe said, represents “an important stage in the negotiations within the framework set by the competition authority.” (Google included neither French nor U.S. media in its initial group of 200 participants.) 

Payment details are scarce, and it is not clear whether these agreements will tap into Google’s US$1 billion pot of money set aside for the three-year programme. Morel shared this insight: “This agreement will be duplicated in many other countries, which means that the cost, worldwide, could be quite high for Google.”  

Nonetheless, in its statement, Google said it is in negotiations with other national and regional dailies and magazines as well. 

“The number of publications which, at the end, will sign this agreement will be much higher than six,” Morel predicted. “I think that nearly every IPG publication (daily and weekly) will sign even if it takes some time. It’s quite logical because these kinds of subjects are important to the life of a country and need publishers’ investment in journalists and investigations. Furthermore, there will be no reason to pay for a chocolate cake recipe or fashion articles, which could be found everywhere.” 

The French General Information Press Alliance (Alliance de la Presse d'Information Générale, or APIG), which represents around 200 news publishers, will continue to negotiate on their behalf toward a framework agreement, Le Monde reported. Such an agreement can be broken down into individual agreements. Pierre Louette, CEO of Les Echos-Le Parisien group and chief of negotiations for the Alliance said, “We are moving towards an agreement.”

Mossiffe added: “Our discussions are progressing with the General Information Press Alliance, and we are working on concluding a framework agreement before the end of the year. … We are currently in discussion with many other players in the national and regional daily press, as well as the magazine press.”

History

France is the first to bring in a national law based on the EU Copyright Directive , which allows publishers bargaining power when dealing with Big Tech. The agreement follows years of lobbying by some of Europe’s largest publishers for the neighbouring right. EU countries all must pass enabling national legislation by the end of 2020.  

Until now, Google has resisted paying for news content, arguing media groups already benefit through the millions of visits it directs their way. In 2019, Google was poised to stop displaying news content — snippets — unless publishers consented to a published-without-pay arrangement. Google has also pointed out its more philanthropic gestures toward sustainable journalism, such as training programmes to help French media make the transition to digital.

Liberation is one example, said Denis Olivennes, managing director of Liberation, in the Google statement: “Libé is engaged in a decisive digital transformation project. The content license agreement (including neighbouring rights) and this partnership signed with Google come at a key moment to support, through the services they make available to us, the development of our audiences and our subscriptions in the respect for our independence.” 

Mossiffe described Google’s previous efforts. “Our offer is in line with our long-term commitment to support journalism in France: Since 2013, we have invested nearly €85 million in France through the Press Digital Innovation Fund, the Digital News Initiative fund, or through the training programmes of the Google News Initiative.”

Although Agence France Presse was not among the signatories, AFP Chief Executive Fabrice Fries said he was “optimistic” about improved relations with Google and other Internet giants such as Facebook and Apple.” At a media conference reported by Barron’s on Thursday, Fries said “attitudes have shifted over the past few months,” predicting the agency’s revenue from digital platforms will double to €20 million a year. 

What to look for next? This quote from Le Monde may be a clue: “[A]ll French publishers now want to negotiate with Facebook, Snap, or Twitter.”

Stay tuned.

About L. Carol Christopher

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