France rules Google must pay news firms for content

Google must negotiate with publishers to pay for reuse of snippets of their content - such as can be surfaced via Google Search

France’s competition authority ruled on Thursday that Google must pay French publishing companies and news agencies for re-using their content. The US tech firm said it would comply with the French competition authority verdict, which followed a complaint by unions representing French press publishers.

“Google’s practices caused a serious and immediate harm to the press sector, while the economic situation of publishers and news agencies is otherwise fragile,” France’s ‘Autorite de la Concurrence’ said in a statement.

France was the first of the European Union Member States to transpose the neighbouring right for news into national law, following the passing of a pan-EU copyright reform last year. Among various controversial measures the reform included a provision to extend copyright to cover content such as the ledes of news stories which aggregators such as Google News scrape and display. The copyright reform as a whole was voted through the EU parliament in March 2019, while France’s national law for extended press publishers rights came into force in October 2019.

A handful of individual EU Member States, including Germany and Spain, had previously passed similar laws covering the use of news snippets - without successfully managing to extract payments from Google, as lawmakers had hoped. In Spain, for example, which made payments to publishers mandatory, Google instead chose to pull the plug on its Google News service entirely. But publishers who lobbied for a pan-EU reform hoped a wider push could turn the screw on the tech giant.

Nonetheless, Google has continued to talk tough over paying for this type of content.

In a September 2019 blog post the tech giant dug in, writing - without apparent irony - that: “We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That’s also why we don’t pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result.”

It has also since changed how Google News displays content in France, as Euractiv reported last year - switching to showing headlines and URLs only, editing out the text snippets it shows in most other markets.

However France’s competition authority has slapped down the tactic — taking the view that Google’s unilateral withdrawal of snippets to deny payment is likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant market position, which it writes “seriously and immediately damaged the press sector.”

The company has a dominant position in Europe’s search market with more than 90% marketshare.

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