French publishers win decisive battle against Google


French publishers on Thursday notched up a critical win in the long-running tug of war with Google over how money is generated from online content.

Frances competition watchdog ordered the U.S. tech giant to negotiate “in good faith” with French publishers and news services over the licensing fees it should pay for press content. The Autorité de la Concurrence said the talks should be wrapped up in three months, and insisted that they should result in a “remuneration” scheme for the publishers.

Googles refusal to pay for press content has risen right to the top of the French political agenda and even drew in President Emmanuel Macron, who cast the debate as a matter of national sovereignty and declared last year: “Some actors, such as Google, wish to free themselves from those [copyright] rules. We wont let them.”

Crucially, Thursdays case shows that the EUs copyright reform has teeth. The reform, which was adopted nearly a year ago in Brussels, granted press publishers a so-called neighboring right allowing them to request a fee from platforms such as Google and Facebook when they display their content online. France was the blocs first country to transpose the reform into national law.

France is set to become the first country where publishers have succeeded in wresting payment from Google for their content.

“This is an important step toward the effective enforcement of the publishers neighboring right,” Frances Culture Minister Franck Riester said in response to the watchdogs decision. “Some people wanted this right to remain a dead letter. They made a mistake,” he added.

The Autorité is still investigating whether the U.S. search behemoth breached competition rules at the expense of the French press, but Thursdays decision means Google has to pay publishers when it uses their content online, and soon.

Third times a charm

In September, Google announced it would no longer publish small excerpts of press articles below web links, also called snippets, instead of entering into licensing agreements with the press. Publishers and the news agency AFP decided to lodge a complaint before the Autorité arguing that the search companys behavior was an abuse of its powerful position as a search engine.

France is set to become the first country where publishers have succeeded in wresting payment from Google for their content.

Before the EU copyright reform was adopted, press publishers in Europe struggled to negotiate with Google.

In Spain, Google decided to stop its Google News service after a debate over the right to payments. In Germany, some publishers — including Axel Springer, POLITICO Europes co-owner — decided to allow the U.S. tech giant to publish their content for free after a drop in traffic.

Thursdays decision means the French press could soon benefit from new revenue streams — a welcome relief for an industry hit hard by plummeting ad spendings amid the coronavirus crisis.

“The objective of the EU is that the editors are better paid when they negotiate the use of their articles which largely benefit the platforms through the advertising revenues,” a spokesman for the European Commission said.

Temporary victory

The watchdog issued a preliminary ruling that Google may have “impos[ed] unfair transaction conditions on publishers and news agencies” after France introduced new EU copyright rules for the press in October.

Isabelle de Silva, the Autorités chief, said the watchdog “found that Googles practices vis-à-vis publishers and news agencies were likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant position.”

The Autorité also found Google caused “serious and immediate damage to the press sector,” the official statement reads, and ordered urgent measures.

“The injunction requires that the negotiations actually result in a remuneration proposal from Google,” the authoritys