French media take copyright fight to Google

AFP . Paris | Update:

This file picture shows the US multinational technology and Internet-related services company Google logo displayed on a tablet in Paris on 18 February 2019. Photo: AFPFrench media said Thursday they would drag Google before the country's competition regulator over its refusal to pay news companies for displaying their content in defiance of a strict new EU copyright law.

The APIG press alliance, which groups dozens of national, regional and local newspapers, said it would also press the French government to take action against the US internet giant.

International news agency Agence France-Presse, which is not a member of the alliance, said it was preparing a separate complaint.

France in July became the first country to ratify a new EU copyright law which was passed this year and comes into force Thursday to ensure publishers are compensated when their work is displayed online.

The new rules create so-called neighbouring rights to ensure a form of copyright protection for media firms when their content is used on websites such as search engines or social media platforms.

But Google has said articles, pictures and videos would be shown in search results only if media firms consent to let the tech giant use them for free.

If they refuse, only a headline and a bare link to the content will appear, Google said, almost certainly resulting in a loss of visibility and potential ad revenue for the publisher.

"This is an act of force from Google," said Pierre Louette, chief executive of Les Echos-Le Parisien media group, accusing the company of trying to "circumvent" the law.

"Google is offering us a choice between amputating our (internet) traffic, which will prevent readers from finding us or accessing our sites via its search engine, and amputating our rights," he told AFP.

 'Untenable' 
On Wednesday, about 800 journalists, photographers, filmmakers and media CEOs signed an open letter published in newspapers across Europe urging governments to ensure that Google and other tech firms comply with the new EU rule.

They letter described Google's move as an insult to national and European sovereignty.

"The existing situation, in which Google enjoys most of the advertising revenue generated by the news that it rakes in without any payment, is untenable and has plunged the media into a crisis that is deepening each year," it said.

The presidents of the European Alliance of News Agencies and the European Newspaper Publishers' Association also signed the letter.

Google says it benefits news publishers by sending more than eight billion visits to their websites each month in Europe alone.

"We don't pay for links to be included in search results" because "it would undermine the trust of users," Richard Gingras, Google's vice president in charge of news, said last month.

But news publishers say the links do not help them cope with plummeting revenues as readers migrate online from traditional media outlets.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said Google will have to comply with the law, which EU member states must translate into domestic legislation by June 2021.

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