This is a victory for press publishers in the battle between them and Google. The competition authority, which they had used, agreed with them, Thursday, April 9: it ordered the American search engine “To conduct negotiations in good faith with publishers and press agencies on the remuneration for the resumption of their protected content”. It sets a deadline of three months.
The major French press publishers (including Le Monde, Le Figaro or Agence France-Presse) are indeed seeking to enforce the “neighboring right” by which they can ask online platforms to pay for the resumption of extracts of their content: article titles, links and short extracts, with photos, as used in the Google News engine. This right was created by the European copyright directive and transposed in the summer of 2019 by French law, which entered into force on October 24.
An “abuse of a dominant position”
But Google, like Facebook, refuses to pay for the recovery of extracts of content in its search engine. The group has announced to publishers that it will now only include simple links with titles, without quotes or photos. Unless the sites concerned waive remuneration. In reaction, the press companies, grouped in the alliance, as well as other media, had lodged a complaint for abuse of dominant position with the competition authority and asked it, meanwhile, to force Google to to negotiate.
Solicited in this emergency procedure, the French authority gives them reason. It orders provisional measures. And “Considers that Google's practices on the occasion of the entry into force of the law on neighboring rights were likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant position, and seriously and immediately damaged the press sector”. It specifies that the negotiation must “Cover, retroactively, the fees due from the entry into force of the law “.
#Righteous neighbors Noting a serious & immediate attack on the press sector, the Adlc pronounces emergency measures … https://t.co/WIIYr9qRFT
Google responded Thursday with the voice of Richard Gingras, its vice president of media relations:
“Since the transposition into France of article 15 of the European copyright directive, we have been talking to a large number of press publishers in order to increase our support and investments for the benefit of the press sector. We will comply with the decision of the competition authority that we are analyzing, while continuing these negotiations. ”
In parallel with the appeal, Google has approached the major media in recent weeks to offer them remuneration for their content. But these articles would be grouped in a tab apart from the search engine and the agreement would not concern all the media, objected the publishers concerned. The American company provides “Want to do more” to support the media sector. But not with neighboring law. Rather by deepening the actions it is already carrying out: financing of innovative projects by the Innovation Fund for digital news (DNI Funds, in English) or partnerships to help find subscriptions, with The world or the Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.
Since the beginning of this conflict, the American company has defended the idea that the results of its search engine should be based only on the “Relevance” proposed links and not “Influenced by trade agreements”. A way to refuse to pay the publishers of the referenced links, for fear that this principle will spread over the world and for all types of content, beyond the press. Google also highlights “8 billion clicks per month” that its engine generates towards the sites that it references. They are free to transform them into subscriptions or advertising, argues the company.
For their part, the French media denounce the grabbing of online advertising resources by Google and Facebook. And their weak position compared to the dominant position of Google in the search. The competition authority followed their reasoning: they say the company may have abused its power. She was potentially guilty of“Imposing unfair trading conditions” but also of “Circumvention of the law”. She thus “Used the possibility left by law to grant, in certain cases, free licenses for certain content, by deciding that in general, no remuneration would be paid for the display of any protected content whatsoever”.
Culture Minister Franck Riester has him “Greeted” the decision of the competition authority: “Although voted, some wanted this right to remain a dead letter. They were wrong “, he reacted in a press release.
What will Google do? His press release is difficult to decipher. It implies that the search engine will comply with the injunction of the authority and therefore negotiate, as it is obliged to do. But he seems to want to continue his other discussions with major publishers, who are also the bridgeheads of the movement to impose neighboring law. The competition authority has instructed him to report monthly on his dealings, pending a final decision on the abuse of dominance complaint from publishers. This will not be known a priori for at least a year.
The current battle in France is being scrutinized very closely because all the other countries of the European Union must also transpose the copyright directive.