back to article French monopoly watchdog orders Google to talk payment terms with French publishers

The French Competition Authority (FCA) has told Google to negotiate with French news companies to determine fees due for the re-use their content. In a statement, the FCA said, Google's practices were "likely to constitute an abuse of a dominant position, and caused serious and immediate harm to the press sector." The ruling …

  1. codejunky Silver badge

    Greed

    They want google to funnel traffic to them. They want to extort money from google for doing so. Hopefully the french will surrender quickly too.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Greed

      Or Google could stop strong-arming by conflating Search with News.

      In Search results, a sentence or partial sentence related to your search shows up, just as it does with every other search result. Google News search uses entire paragraphs or more in it's "results". There's a significant difference. Also, as per the article, although Google are now claiming that News makes no money, they also claim that News drives traffic and ad revenue through other Google services to the tune of many millions. It's typical accountancy tricks to make one part of a business seem like a cost centre, eg IT departments compared to sales departments.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Greed

        "Google are now claiming that News makes no money, they also claim that News drives traffic and ad revenue through other Google services to the tune of many millions"

        In Google's terms if it only amounts to millions it is no money.

      2. codejunky Silver badge

        Re: Greed

        @John Brown (no body)

        If the news sources dont like it they can easily stop google from reading their site with a robots.txt. The publishers choose to be on google because they want the traffic. Now they also want to charge google for providing the traffic.

        I hope google turns them off in france or tells em to sod off.

    2. LDS Silver badge

      "They want google to funnel traffic to them"

      It's a bit different. It's Google is now in a so dominant position that it directly affects how much traffic comes to you - and can drive it at its pleasure. So much power into a single unaccountable company is truly dangerous.

      Moreover Google alone is useless - it has to rely on others' contents to be useful and make money with ads.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Trollface

      Re: Greed

      @codejunky "Hopefully the french will surrender quickly too.”

      That sounds like you've come all over Mark Francois there.

      1. BebopWeBop
        Headmaster

        Re: Greed

        And just as deluded.

    4. LucreLout

      Re: Greed

      Hopefully the french will surrender quickly too.

      When did they ever not?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Greed

        Oh, oh, I know the answer to this one! When we French crushed the Anglo-Saxons in Hastings, 1066. Ah, how time flies.

  2. heyrick Silver badge

    Dear Google

    Just ditch the French publishers and see how long it takes them to decide that not including their content it's causing serious and immediate harm blah blah.

    But please don't blanket can Google News in France. I use it, but for British media...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Dear Google

      Or just remove French from Google, the rest of the world won't miss it

      1. Paul Shirley

        Re: Dear Google

        The Spain precedent suggests Google wouldn't miss dealing with the notoriously difficult French :)

        Or listen if they beg to come back...

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Dear Google

          The Spanish government learned from what happened in Germany and made it unlawful for companies to negotiate individual access agreements with Google, in order to present a unified front.

          Um yeah, well that turned out well.

          1. arthoss

            Re: Dear Google

            hi Alan, I think that law is meant to create an empty ("blue ocean") space where a better solution will come along at some point.

      2. LucreLout

        Re: Dear Google

        Or just remove French from Google

        Quite. Were Google to drop France entirely, rather than just French, they'd soon be repealling their law and begging Google to return.

        Think about it for a moment, France has just as many "Javascript developers" as any other country, and they won't be able to function without Google. The productivity hit to information professionals, whose job it is to understand Google searching and how to leverage it, including SEO, would be significant enough to show up in their revenue figures. Not to mention the difficulties for the oldest and younger generations who have only ever known Google for searching would be enormous.

        At best France would be handing control straight to the other big player in technology - Microsoft.

        While I get the point of principle with the copyright laws, I'm genuinely struggling to see the the actual balanced upside for France in all of this, other than some half baked notion of nationality.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dear Google

          Luckily, we've already working on our Google replacement:

          https://www.qwant.fr

          I've thought about it for a moment, and well, I've concluded that being dependent on a foreign power that doesn't have our best interests at heart might not be the best way toward the future.

  3. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    Kicking Google might have undesirable consequences

    It is tempting to side with French publishers against the Google advertising behemoth. However, that would be short-sighted.

    A great strength of the Internet rests upon ease with which information (aka 'content') from divers sources may be collated. Presenting links to sources along with whatever is being quoted/discussed gives proper attribution. It is yet to dawn upon media with web presence that attribution is the only thing they realistically can demand; attribution is a courtesy and protects against accusation of plagiarism.

    The Internet makes clear that, despite wishful thinking otherwise, digitally encoded information cannot be 'owned' in the sense (anachronistic) copyright would have it be. A battle for freedom of access is being fought on several fronts. These notably concerning popular culture (film, TV shows, recorded music, and sport) and academic literature. The former entails increasing disobedience motivated by objection to arbitrary restrictions and monopoly-based price-gouging. The latter is a principled stand against the idea of knowledge, and culture more generally, being fenced off with access determined by gatekeepers; victory is certain, this aided by the fact that academic literature and books carry small footprint during transmission consequent upon files sizes being tiny in comparison to those necessary for, say, film.

    EU legislation doesn't, and could not, discriminate between major players such as Google and somebody's online 'blog'. Sharing news and other information with links for attribution of source would be stifled should a bevy of lawyers discern profit from going after smaller fry and engage in speculative invoicing. They would have the Internet consist of walled gardens and all transfer/sharing among them monetised. Needless to say, none of that would halt progress towards a sharing ethos or prevent recognition of need for new (actually pre-copyright) non-rentier means for supporting creative activities in absence of a plethora of middlemen. However, it would be an irritant.

    Google and many other global enterprises are in need of taking down a few pegs. That is best achieved by nation states collaborating in demanding revenues generated from activities within the states' jurisdictions be openly declared and subject to taxation. Some of the extra tax revenue could be channelled into promoting infrastructure for creative activities. A much better solution than encouraging an elaborate billing system for use of quotation and Internet links.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Boffin

      Re: Kicking Google might have undesirable consequences

      Sorry but you get down voted.

      Simple truth... Google has been illegally profiting at the expense of those who actually create the content.

      Just something to think about.

      1. Dinanziame Silver badge

        Re: Kicking Google might have undesirable consequences

        "Illegally"...? Completely legally, and with the permission of the content creators. Publishers have the possibility to prevent Google from displaying their snippets. They choose not to do so, because they know it would bring them less traffic, not more.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Kicking Google might have undesirable consequences

          Really? Everything on Youtube is there legally? Pretty sure that according to ElReg, Google did make a few bucks thanks to piracy there, but hey, let's blame the people producing the content instead.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Kicking Google might have undesirable consequences

      You really should tell that to phone makers whose businesses depend on Google granting them permission to use their digitally encoded information. I'm sure they're not aware that it cannot be owned, in whatever sense copyright may have, silly them.

  4. fishman

    Other French speaking sources

    Or Google can get the French language news from news sources in French speaking countries other than France. If Google did that for 50% of their French language news it would result in a huge drop in traffic for the French news sources.

  5. Norman Nescio

    Moneygrab?

    Given that the Google-bot respects robots.txt, why can't the French publishers simply block Google from crawling their websites?

    Perhaps they see a potential source of easy revenue?

    As it is, I have a lot of sympathy with Long John Silver's view.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: Moneygrab?

      Because that blocks them from being listed in search results. This dispute is about whether Google should be able to scrape large chunks of content off these sites in the name of search but then stitch them together as a freebie news site, thus alleviating punters of actually having to go to the source at all.

      Calling it a "link tax" is grossly mis-leading, since no-one minds *links*. (Well, not now at any rate. I recall twenty years ago a few arguments about the ethics of "deep linking" but that seems to have been resolved in favour of "if you don't like it, configure your web server so that they don't work, rather than expecting the rest of the world to change how HTTP works".)

      1. Paul Shirley

        Re: Moneygrab?

        With the important point that the experiment has been done and shown it actually drives more visits to the underlying news sites than it removes. In real life punters have little reason to go to the sites at all, have overwhelming choice of sources and prefer watching cat videos instead of news.

        Should we just shut Google news down and watch the news sites drown 10% faster?

      2. Dinanziame Silver badge

        Re: Moneygrab?

        This dispute is about whether Google should be able to scrape large chunks of content off these sites in the name of search but then stitch them together as a freebie news site, thus alleviating punters of actually having to go to the source at all.

        Well see, that experiment has been done already. Publishers have had the possibility for a while to allow Google to display snippets or not (in Germany at least, France could easily get the option if they haven't already); and all publishers ended up allowing the snippets, because removing the snippets brings less traffic, not more.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          Re: Moneygrab?

          "and all publishers ended up allowing the snippets, because removing the snippets brings less traffic, not more"

          Ah, but French logic is quite protectionist, to the point where the government will happily support its own companies even if they completely missed the boat on this whole internet thing, charge inflated prices, and generally behave like it is 1980 and why isn't anybody looking at their minitel page?

          If the competition does it better, cheaper, and in a more user accessible way, if said competition is foreign, expect creative reasoning for why that is bad and the luddites are good...

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Moneygrab?

            "Ah, but French logic is quite protectionist,"

            So was Spanish logic.

            It didn't work out so well for spanish publishers

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    The consequences are simple

    Oppose Google and your traffic goes down. Then Google can pretend to be the nice guy by reinstating its scraping of your site when you come crawling back on your knees to beg it.

    Regulation is indeed the only way to manage this, because Google will not self-regulate in someone else's favor. No monopoly would, and it wouldn't be in the best interests of the shareholders.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: The consequences are simple

      "No monopoly would"

      If Google is a monopoly it's only because the publishers have allowed it to be. There's nothing to stop them indexing their own material, using robots.txt to stop Google doing so and then pooling those indexes into their own not-Google search engine. They could have their own monopoly.

      Presumably the reason they haven't is that they think Google can do it better or cheaper.

      1. RyokuMas Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: The consequences are simple

        " There's nothing to stop them indexing their own material..."

        Quite so. However, given that we are now in a state where the very word "Google" is used in common parlance as a verb meaning "to search on the internet", what do you think the chances would be of such a rival search engine gaining any significant traction?

        Google has land-grabbed its way to the top in search - and quite rightly so at the time, since when this happened, it was easily the best search engine out there. The issue here is that the power that such a position provided was not recognised until it was too late. For example, one of the biggest (if not the single biggest) reasons that Chrome is currently the number one browser is because Google plastered their search pages with calls to action stating to "download Chrome for a better browsing experience".

        Somehow, I doubt Google would willingly list such a rival search engine on their browser. Same with Android, and I would not be surprised if a swathe of Youtube ads hit to promote Google search in this event as well.

        Then there's perception to consider - despite the fact that a lot of us tech-savvy have wised up to Google (the vote-counts from five years ago compared to now are an interesting read!), a lot of the average public still consider Google as go-to and gold standard. So if this new search engine started offering "different results" to Google, chances are that people would not think it as good.

        Lastly, it's not just search that such an engine would need to crack - it's analytics as well. An entire industry - SEO - has grown up around reading the site data provided by Google and trying to second-guess what Google will do next. Have you ever heard anyone worrying about their Duck Duck Go ranking? A new search engine would have to offer data similar to Google analytics in order to enable SEO, and then become significant quickly enough to create the disruption required to break into the market.

        So yes, someone else could create their own search engine and deny Google their content. But they would also have to win the hearts and minds of the users, and given how deeply Google is entrenched in our lives (Search, Chrome, Analytics, Youtube, Android, Nest, Gmail, Maps, etc., etc.), this would be not so much an uphill battle but like attempting to climb a near vertical ice-sheet without crampons.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The consequences are simple

        Companies have a right to become a monopoly. What they don't have then is the right to use that power to force all the other, smaller players to do their bidding and kowtow to them.

  7. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Holmes

    The problem of any negotiation is that Google can just say "how about zero? Is zero a good price for you?"

    If you let the market decide how much Google has to pay publishers, the answer will be negative. Publishers would totally pay for traffic, and everybody knows it. In fact, they are already doing so, and it's called advertising. Google has some experience in that business as well.

    Of course, if the government decides to set a price for those snippets, chances are that Google will just stop showing them altogether... Which usually results in less traffic to publishers (because users are not enticed by the links) rather than more (because users already know what the article says and don't need to follow the link).

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "If you let the market decide how much Google has to pay publishers, the answer will be negative. "

      Let me tell you a story.....

      Back in the 1980s, in the days of broadcast TV and before things like 't web, there were Music Video TV shows (this was before MTV achieved much penetration).

      Radio stations pay royalties for every song played. If they don't pay, they can't play.

      Record companies (in the form of the Recording Industry of Australia and New Zealand - RIANZ) decided they should be paid royalties for their music videos being aired on TV too and set out to make an example of a TV network, starting in the small backwards country of New Zealand.

      So off they went to make their demands, taking it to court in 1986

      The reaction of the 2 TV networks at the time was immediate: They turned off the shows, reasoning that Music Videos are promotional material and they are not obliged to pay for airing promotional material.

      At that point the recording companies discovered what everyone else already knew: TV airtime drove sales and broke new music. After 6 months RIANZ was bleeding heavily, sales were well down in retailers across the country, resentment was high amongst purchasers and the TV companies cancelled all their advertising discounts too.

      To make matters worse for the RIANZ, the radio industry had taken notice and was rumbling loudly in disocntent.

      It go so bad for the music companies that in November 1986, Michael Jackson's "Bad" video release was aired - not in a show, but as a prime time national TV advert just after the 6pm news with ZERO discount given. And again after the 10pm news, then the next day.

      On both networks (there were 3 channels, 2 for the government network, one for the private one)

      They paid more for EACH of those paid promotional spots (adverts) than the legendary "multimillion dollar" pricetag of the video.

      For a promotional video which would have cost nothing to air under normal circumstances and been played 8-10 times per week in various shows on both national networks. Instead they were having to pay top dollar to promote it. I don't think they ever sold enough copies to cover the advertising costs.

      On top of that, the record companies were coming under increasing flak for causing major damage to the local music industry, with accompanying political fallout and questions being asked in Parliament when independent companies stated that RIANZ had made the decision to take the TV networks to court without bothering to consult them - and had tied their hands - preventing their material being aired when they did not want royalties for their promotional videos as those videos were crucial to generate sales.

      The writing was on the wall. Not long after that the RIANZ capitulated and music video shows returned to New Zealand TV screens.

      Demands for royalties on broadcast music videos were never attempted again - and worldwide plans to impose similar structures were dropped.

      Google is the modern version of the TV network. The publishers know this. Attempting to engage in rent seeking behaviour has already been shown to backfire.

      What are the French going to do? Legislate that Google NOT turn off Google News?

      1. cornetman Silver badge

        Indeed. Did not music publishers find the same when they went after YouTube, not realising that it was quite possibly their most valuable, free advertising tool ever? Talk about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

        I sometimes wonder what goes through the heads of some of these supposedly intelligent people. This is exactly the kind of entitled attitude that copyright generates, even to the point that publishers will pursue their own customers in court, and other entities acting in their best interests out of sheer spite (because they are also making money).

  8. John Sturdy
    Mushroom

    I thought Google's response to Copiepresse was quite restrained, given that they could have stopped listing anything in the .be domain, with an explanatory text "There are also results from Belgian sites but we are not displaying those while there are unresolved issues with Belgian copyright law." Probably would have got a much faster response that way.

  9. Caltharian

    Is this not a case of the french publishers wanting to have their cake and eat it aswell?!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Je veux mon gâteau et je veux aussi le manger.

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