France's competition regulator has ordered tech giant Google to enter negotiations with French news publishers in order to start paying for displaying extracts of articles in searches. The tech giant has refused to comply with Europe’s new digital copyright law that came into effect in France in October.
France's Competition Authority on Thursday ruled that that Google will be required “within three months, to conduct negotiations in good faith with publishers and news agencies on the remuneration for the re-use of their protected contents".
Payments to publishing companies and news agencies are to be applied retroactively, back to 24 October 2019, when France became the first country to ratify the EU digital copyright law, which guarantees so-called "neighbouring rights", designed to compensate media companies for their work that is shown on websites, search engines and social media platforms.
Unions representing media groups and the news agency Agence France-Presse filed a complaint with the competition regulator in November after Google refused to comply with the new rules.
How news is displayed
The search engine said last year that it would remove snippets of articles unless publishers allowed it to display them without cost. Those who insisted on payment would only have content displayed with a headline and a link, which would almost certainly result in a loss of visibility.
The regulator said, "Google’s actions, when the neighbouring rights law came into force, are likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant position". The vast majority of French media companies are allowing Google to display their content for free, because Google dominates the search market.
By not paying for displaying the content, Google has violated the law, and caused “serious and immediate harm to the press sector, while the economic situation of publishers and news agencies is otherwise fragile".
While the law does allow the option of free licenses, the regulator said the choice of not paying “seems difficult to reconcile with the purpose and scope of the law, which aimed to redefine the sharing of value in favour of press publishers vis-à-vis platforms”.
Google's news vice president, Richard Gingras, said in a statement: "Since the European copyright law came into force in France last year, we have been engaging with publishers to increase our support and investment in news."
Google argues that European news publishers already get significant value from the eight billion visits they receive each month from users who search for their content on the platform.
Gingras said Google “will comply” with the order, while reviewing it and continuing negotiations.
Interim measures require Google to publish material the way publishers would like, and the regulator says that will help provide for balanced negotiations and ensure neutrality for how information is indexed.
French Culture minister Franck Riester welcomed the agency’s decision as an important step towards putting in place the remuneration of news producers.
“Those who use this news content must pay. Without that, there is no sustainable news production, and therefore no sustainable democracy,” he said in a statement, adding that the current coronavirus epidemic has revealed the crucial role of the press and it’s “mission to inform".
"This mission has a cost, and therefore also a price, which is the fair compensation of those who produce it.”