Google, French publishers are back at negotiation table on content remunerations

By L. Carol Christopher

INMA

Pleasant Hill, California, USA

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Google must open talks with French publishers regarding use of their content under the “neighbouring right,” an appeals court ruled earlier this month. The French arrangement differs from Google’s recent announcement to support the news industry with a US$1 billion global payout over three years via the Google News Showcase in that it seeks what Reuters called a “sustainable methodology” for remunerating news organisations. 

In the ruling, the French court validated an April decision by the Autorité de la Concurrence, the French competition authority, and marks a world first, according to Isabelle de Silver, France’s antitrust chief.

“Google’s conduct amounted to saying: I’m offering you a contract under which you give me all your rights for no remuneration,” she told Reuters.

Two key rulings follow months of talks

The court made two key rulings, Politico reported:

  1. Google has a “quasi monopoly” over the online search market.
  2. Publishers benefit from Google-generated traffic, but Google also makes economic gains from displaying news — most notably by collecting the personal data of users.

The April agreement gave Google three months to open talks, which Google said were going well, with the publishers: “The Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG) and Google have been working together for a year on the remuneration of neighbouring rights under the French law. These discussions have evolved positively ...” 

Pierre Louette, Groupe Les Echos-Le Parisien CEO, who is negotiating for Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG), agreed. APIG represents the French press, along with L’Agence France-Presse and Le Syndicat des Éditeurs de la Presse Magazine. “The last few weeks have allowed us to clarify many points and confirm that Google accepts the principle of remuneration for our press titles,” Louette said.

Nonetheless, Politico reported that the talks had broken down in August, and that the economy ministry had also joined the proceedings.

What is it worth?

The negotiations could contain disappointment as well as cause for jubilation. According to the Politico report, which cited Le Monde, “The general agreement with APIG could be worth more than €25 million, to be divided between the different members the association represents via individual contracts. Press publishers had originally hoped to get between €250 million and €320 million per year.”

Distribution criteria would include publisher’s audience, non-discrimination, and contribution to political and general information.

Global observers welcome the ruling 

Observers expect reverberations in other countries seeking to find ways for publishers to be remunerated. Politico called France the “’testing ground’ for a controversial EU overhaul of copyright rules. 

AFP Président Directeur Général Fabrice Fries told INMA: “France is the first EU member state to transpose the directive. So the Court’s decision is being scrutinised by other member states. These discussions should encourage the other states to transpose swiftly and fight for the publishers’ rights to compensation. Beyond Europe, a clear signal that quality information has a value has been sent to Google and the other major platforms. This obviously echoes with what is currently going on in Australia.”

ACCC chair, Rod Sims, told Guardian Australia: “We welcome this important decision, and continue to engage with competition regulators around the world, including the French Competition Authority, on these issues.”

More agreements pending

Politico also reported agreements with other press trade associations and news agencies including Agence France-Presse, are still works in progress.

“AFP fought hard for the inclusion of news agencies in the scope of the European directive,” Fries said. “The French Court of Appeals’ decision on October 8 confirmed that news agencies are entitled to neighbouring rights, and direct beneficiaries. As a result, our discussions with Google resumed. So far it is too early to tell if and when we will reach an agreement. The whole process is under close watch by the French Competition Authority and there is no legal barrier left for a speedy conclusion if all parties negotiate in good faith.”

About L. Carol Christopher

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