Google strikes payment deal with some French media groups

·3-min read
Google said Thursday that it had signed "some individual agreements" on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines after months of wrangling over the sharing of revenues from the display of news in search results.
Google said Thursday that it had signed "some individual agreements" on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines after months of wrangling over the sharing of revenues from the display of news in search results.

Google said Thursday that it had signed "some individual agreements" on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines after months of wrangling over the sharing of revenues from the display of news in search results.

Signatories to the deal included top French dailies Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation, as well as magazines like L'Express, L'Obs and Courrier International.

In a statement, Google France chief Sebastien Missoffe said talks with other media groups were continuing, with a goal of reaching "a framework agreement by the end of the year."

The announcement came after a Paris appeals court ruled last month that the US giant must continue to negotiate with French news publishers over a new European law on so-called "neighbouring rights," which calls for payment for showing news content with internet searches.

News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions have long been seething at Google's failure to give them a cut of the millions it makes from ads displayed alongside news search results.

With the Covid-19 crisis crimping sales even further, several top French publications are expected to report huge losses this year.

But Google had refused to comply with the digital copyright law, which France was the first in the EU to enact, saying media groups already benefit by receiving millions of visits to their websites.

Financial specifics were not disclosed, but Missoffe said payments would be based on criteria including daily publication volumes, monthly internet traffic, and "the publisher's contribution to political and general information".

Agence France-Presse, which along with other media groups has lodged complaints against Google with France's competition regulator, did not sign the accord.

But AFP chief executive Fabrice Fries said he was "optimistic" about improved relations with Google and other internet giants such as Facebook and Apple.

"We get a sense that attitudes have shifted over the past few months," Fries told a media conference in Paris on Thursday, saying he aimed to double the agency's revenues from internet platforms from around 10 million euros a year currently.

- 'Extremely vigilant' -

Google has clashed repeatedly with publishers over its reluctance to pay for displaying articles, videos and other content in its search results, which have become a vital path for reaching viewers as print subscriptions fade.

After the EU's neighbouring rights law came into effect, it warned that associated content would be shown in search results only if media groups consented to let Google use them at no cost.

News publishers cried foul over an ultimatum that would almost certainly result in their losing visibility and potential ad revenues.

But Google argued that besides encouraging millions of people to click through to media sites, it has also spent millions to support media groups in other ways, including emergency funding during the Covid-19 crisis.

Missoffe said Thursday that since 2013, Google had invested some 85 million euros ($100 million) in France's media landscape, to promote shifts to digital platforms as well as training programmes.

Last month, Google announced plans to invest $1 billion in partnerships with news publishers worldwide to develop a "Showcase" app to highlight their reporting packages.

But among the nearly 200 publications Google said had signed up from several countries, its list lacked any from France or the United States.

Isabelle da Silva, head of France's competition authority, told the Paris media conference that her agency "will be extremely vigilant that the contracts explicitly recognise neighbouring rights, and pay for them."