Should Google pay news publishers? French watchdog’s latest ruling revives the debate
Does Google harm publishers more than it helps? To answer that, here’s what we need to consider.
Google Search and Google News have increasingly become the gateway for users to consume news from different sources. As Google products gain more dominance, publishers are getting more and more reliant on Google for discovery and subsequently for traffic and also advertisements.
And all of this happens without Google paying anything to publishers for utilising their content, for example, the snippets in Search or Google News. This is what the French publishers are against.
These publishers are up in arms to fight the internet giant and may have secured their very first victory. French anti-competition watchdog on Thursday ordered Google to negotiate with publishers and news agencies to give remuneration for using their content on its platforms. The move could have pan-EU implications as well as in other markets where watchdogs have been scrutinising Google's dominance.
The French 'Autorite de la Concurrence' body in its ruling noted that the negotiation must cover remuneration retrospectively with effect from October, 2019 when France extended publishers' rights under the copyright reform voted in by the EU parliament in March, 2019.
Google is said to have 90% market share in the European search market.
In its response, so far, Google has maintained that its searches aren't sold and that ads are clearly marked.
What is EU's Copyright reform?
The EU Parliament passed a Copyright reform in March last year. Article 11 of the reform proposed to extend digital copyright to news stories that are used by aggregators such as Google News. The reform compares the remuneration that one should receive with the one enjoyed by music or film producers when their content is used by others.
"The new Copyright Directive gives press publishers a new right to strengthen their bargaining position and improve their remuneration when they negotiate the use of their content by online platforms. It is a similar right to the ones already enjoyed by music or film producers. This improved better bargaining position will allow publishers to negotiate fairer licences 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," explains an excerpt in the FAQ section on the EU website.
Ahead of the vote, Google had warned that the law would lead to a "substantial traffic loss to publishers" if it is implemented.
"We reiterate our commitment to supporting high-quality journalism. However, the recent debate shows that there's a fundamental misunderstanding of the value of headlines and snippets—very short previews of what someone will find when he or she clicks a link. 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," Kent Walker, SVP, Global Affairs at Google, said in a blog post in February last year.
But, Google found a workaround
Google tried to bypass the copyright reform law last year by making changes to its platform like Google News. Instead of paying the publishers, Google removed snippets, videos and images from Google News, and only showed headlines with URLs.
In other markets, Google News has more contextual information.
Google also took down Google News service entirely in Spain which had made it mandatory to pay to publishers. The company has also talked tough on the issue of paying publishers.
In a blog post in September last year, Google News VP Richard Gingras wrote: "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.
Working around the workaround
As pointed out by TechCrunch, the latest ruling has blocked Google's workaround for not paying the publishers. The watchdog said Google's decision to withdraw snippets etc was 'unfair behaviour'.
"In practice, the vast majority of press publishers have granted Google licenses for the use and display of their protected content, and this without possible negotiation and without receiving any remuneration from Google. In addition, as part of Google's new display policy, the licenses which have been granted to it by publishers and press agencies offer it the possibility of taking up more content than before," the French regulator, Autorite de la Concurrence, is quoted as saying.
"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," it added.
Google vs EU
Google and the EU have been at loggerheads on a variety of issues since 2010. These issues include Google's Shopping charges, AdSense charges and Android among others.
Back in 2018, Google was even slapped with a fine of Euro 4.3 billion by the EU for using its Android mobile operating system to abuse dominance over competition. The company had said it would appeal against the fine.