French Politician’s Blast Google Following the Law as “Unacceptable”

In a move to comply with Europe’s Link Tax, Google France deleted news snippets. The perfectly legal move is being blasted by French politicians as “unacceptable”.

The saga to hold Google accountable for following the law continues in France. Earlier this year, the near universally opposed European copyright directive was passed after publishers threatened MEPs with ultimatums to pass the laws.

Part of the copyright directive, famous for ushering in an era of the censorship machines, is a link tax. Google, for its part, warned of the consequences of passing such a law. They even pointed out that it would potentially lead to a 45% drop in traffic. Publishers and politicians, of course, ignored those warnings and passed the laws anyway.

Now, with France moving quickly to implement the link tax, Google France was forced to delete snippets from their Google News service. They also made an offer to publishers after: if you wish to see snippets brought back, you can agree to waive the Link Tax and go back to a more sane time. Whether or not there are provisions prohibiting such contractual agreements is unclear. Still, that is the offer on the table for the time being.

Of course, French publishers are furious that Google is not handing them free money. French publishers teamed up with German publishers to demand free money from Google. They called the move “blackmail” and an abuse of power. How a private company changing what they offer is considered an abuse of power is unclear. They also said that they are considering going after Google on anti-trust grounds because they hold such a large share of the market in ads. How that would fix anything is also unclear.

Now, French politicians are weighing in. They are blasting Google’s move to be in compliance with the law as “unacceptable”. From Euractiv:

Google’s move provoked the ire of French policymakers, with France’s Culture Minister Franck Riester calling Google’s decision “unacceptable”.

Digital Secretary Cédric O added that the tech giant’s move is “disrespectful of the spirit of the European directive and the French law.”

French publishers were equally scornful. “You can’t have the choice between appearing and disappearing,” said Pierre Louette, CEO of Les Echos and Le Parisien newspapers, referring to Google’s decision to remove portions of text that would make it liable for remunerating publishers.

The European Commission, meanwhile, vowed that the Copyright Directive was still alive.

“The Directive is not in danger. On the contrary it makes EU copyright rules fit for today’s digital world and will make it much easier for creators and right holders, press editors and journalists to be remunerated for the online use of their content,” a Commission Spokesperson told EURACTIV.

The Commission also attempted to assure tech platforms like Google that their move to avoid having to pay “neighbouring rights” to press publishers was not warranted.

It’s worth asking whether or not Google is somehow obligated to link to these publishers in the first place. If they choose not to link to something, that is their right as a private company. If they choose not to carry snippets, that is their right. Where in the law does it say that Google “must carry snippets and/or links” exactly? Furthermore, even if French publishers and lawmakers somehow manage to convince a European court that Google must carry those snippets, what’s stopping Google from leaving countries that are implementing those laws in the first place?

What will be interesting to see is how other countries react to the developments. If they choose to implement those laws, will we see similar reactions from major publishers demanding free money from the search engine giant? Regardless, the damage is certainly already being felt from the much reviled Link Tax.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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