Ancillary copyright: Google should pay French publishers for snippets


The search engine group Google should pay in France for the display of search results. This emerges from a decision by the French competition authority Autorité de la Concurrence in the dispute over the implementation of the French ancillary copyright law for press publishers. According to the April 9, 2020 announcement Google is to negotiate with French publishers and press agencies over the next three months about remuneration for content previously used free of charge.

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France was the first EU member state to implement the copyright directive that came into force in June 2019. Since October 24, 2019, Internet services of any kind, not just search engines, are no longer allowed to publish the content of media beyond existing copyright laws without a license. Only license-free use remains permitted "single words or very short extracts from a press release". Hyperlinks are also permitted, provided they do not contain more than individual words or very short extracts. However, the directive does not require compensation.

Authority sees market abuse

At the end of September 2019, Google announced that it would implement the requirements of the new French ancillary copyright law accordingly and only display the article headings in the search results. The search engine group wanted to avoid license payments. However, publishers were given the opportunity to control the display of content using search engine instructions (robots meta tags). Negotiations on license payments were refused.

In order to lose as little search engine traffic as possible, most media gave the market leader free access to the content. At the same time, they filed a complaint with the competition authority.

Unlike in Germany, where the Bundeskartellamt sees no comparable breach of competition law in Google's comparable approach, the French competition authority is turning more closely to publishers. According to this, Google was able to use its market power and impose unfair conditions on the publishers. Google made use of the legal possibility that publishers could issue free licenses. However, this approach is hardly compatible with the intention of the law, which should ensure that publishers receive fair remuneration for the use of content.

Multiple Google editions

Google received several conditions with the decision. On the one hand, the group must negotiate with the publishers over the next three months about remuneration for the content displayed since October 2019. The indexing and presentation of the content may not be changed during the negotiations. In addition, Google has to inform the authority every month about the progress of the talks. Google initially announced that it wanted to implement the requirements. The extent to which legal action is taken to counteract this is unclear.

So far, Google has always strictly refused to pay money to display search content. The consequence of the decision could therefore be that Google completely refrains from displaying more than the content that is licensed under the law. However, that would not be in the sense of Google, the user or the publishers. In Germany, a bill by the Federal Ministry of Justice became known last week that would like to make it possible to display up to eight words of an article free of charge.

In a joint statement the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) and the Association of German Newspaper Publishers (VDZ) welcomed the decision of the French antitrust authority. "The decision in Paris is an initial spark for the further debate in Germany and an appropriate implementation of the directive in the national laws"said a spokesman for the two associations in Berlin.

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