EU rattles Google with demand to pay news publishers

With Google Search and Google News becoming a go-to website for any consumer wishing to read up on a wide number of topics, the products have gained more dominance over time

In Spain, Google took down Google News altogether when it made mandatory for them to pay to publishers.

After being at loggerheads with Google for various issues since 2010, be it Google’s Shopping charges, AdSense charges or Android, the European Union (EU) has once again stood up in arms against the internet giant for utilising news content of various websites, without paying them.

With Google Search and Google News becoming a go-to website for any consumer wishing to read up on a wide number of topics, the products have gained more dominance over time.

As a result, publishers are relying heavily on Google for discovery, traffic as well as advertisements.

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While Google uses the news snippets from various websites in Search or Google news, it doesn’t pay anything to them, for using their content.

This is what French publishers are against.

Securing their first victory, the French anti-competition watchdog, ‘Autorite de la Concurrence’, on Thursday (April 9) asked Google to negotiate with publishers and news agencies on paying them proper remuneration for re-using their content on its platforms.

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The move could have a larger impact on other markets as well, where Google’s dominance has been scrutinised.

The French watchdog said the negotiation must retroactively cover the fees due as of the entry into force of the reformed law on October 24, 2019, that extends to publishers’ rights under the copyright reforms.

In its response, Google has maintained that its searches aren’t sold and that ads are clearly marked.

EU’s Copyright reform

March 2019, the EU Parliament passed a Copyright reform that proposed to extend digital copyright to news stories that are used by aggregators such as Google News.

Comparing it to the remuneration that music or film producers enjoy, in case of re-use of their content.

“This improved better bargaining position will allow publishers to negotiate fairer licenses for their content. In turn, to make sure that journalists will also benefit economically from the press publishers’ right, the Directive stipulates that they should receive an appropriate share of the revenues resulting from the online uses of press publications,” as given in the EU website.

Google had ahead of the voting warned that the law if passed would lead to a ‘substantial traffic loss to publishers” and Kent Walker, SVP, Global Affairs at Google, has said in a blog post in February last year, that Google is committed to supporting high-quality journalism. However, there might a fundamental misunderstanding of the values of headlines and snippets.

“Reducing the length of the snippets to just a few individual words or short extracts will make it harder for consumers to discover news content and reduce overall traffic to news publishers,” he said.

After the reform laws were passed, Google tried to work its way around by removing snippets, videos, and images from Google news and only showing headlines with URLs.

In Spain, Google took down Google News altogether when it made mandatory for them to pay to publishers.

Talking about Google’s aversion to paying publishers, Richard Gingras, Google News VP, said, “People trust Google to help them find useful and authoritative information, from a diverse range of sources. To uphold that trust, search results must be determined by relevance — not by commercial partnerships.”

“That’s why we don’t accept payment from anyone to be included in search results. 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,” he added.

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However, the latest ruling by the EU has blocked Google’s workaround and said Google’s decision to withdraw snippets was ‘unfair behaviour’.

Asking Google to negotiate with the publishers in good faith, the French regulator, Autorite de la Concurrence, said, “In these conditions, in addition to their referral to the merits, the seizors requested the order of provisional measures aimed at enjoining Google to enter in good faith into negotiations for the remuneration of the resumption of their content.”

In March, EU’s antitrust regulators fined Google 1.49 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for abusing its dominance in the online search market by blocking rivals.

Brussels in 2018 hit Google with a record 4.3 billion euros fine for abusing the dominant market position of its Android operating system for mobile phones.

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