French Regulators Compel Google to Post News Snippets in Link Tax Battle

The battle over the European Link Tax is reaching bizarre levels. Regulators said that Google must use snippets in their news service.

The battle over the link tax continues with regulators seemingly bending the rules in a bid to force Google to pay publishers to send them traffic.

Last year, after lawmakers received political death threats and procedural confusion at the time of the vote, the Internet killing censorship machines and link tax laws passed. This in spite of the then unprecedentedly large petition and mass demonstrations flooding the streets across the continent.

The link tax itself compels news aggregators to pay publishers for the “privilege” of sending them traffic and increasing publisher ad revenue. Google, for its part, wasn’t going to take this lying down. Throughout the process, Google warned that should the laws pass, the Google News feature will be forced to delete all snippets, specific URLs and pictures from search results. The service did a test drive of a link tax compliant service. The service saw a 45% drop in traffic to news services.

Regardless of the warnings, French lawmakers quickly passed the Link Tax laws a mere 4 days after the laws passed at the continental level. Left with little other choice, Google, in response, followed through with their dire warnings and deleted news snippets from their French news service. The search engine also said that French outlets who wish to be part of the service can use their account options to forgo the link tax should they want to see their search results restored. The move itself is actually legal. Without snippets, Google will not have to pay the link tax. In response, French publishers blasted Google, suggesting that Google following the law was “unacceptable“. For them, they wanted to force Google to fold under the law and pay them money for nothing.

Since then, Google and French regulators have been in negotiations to come up with a solution for this impasse. Unfortunately, it seems that French regulators ruled that the French version of Google News must use snippets, therefore compelling the service to pay the link tax. From ArsTechnica:

France’s competition authority says that Google must go back to the bargaining table to negotiate a rate that the search giant will pay to link to articles on French news sites. So far, Google has flatly refused to pay fees to link to news articles, despite a new EU copyright directive designed to force Google to do so.

Under the ruling, Google must conduct “good faith negotiations” with French news organizations to arrive at a non-zero price for Google to pay to link to their content. Google must begin negotiations with news organizations within three months and send the competition agency monthly reports on its progress.

During negotiations, Google must reinstate snippets in news article search results. Google will be required to retroactively pay news organizations for linking to them, going back to October 2019, at whatever rate is determined in the negotiations. The regulator is also ordering Google not to alter the indexing, classification, or presentation of “protected content”—e.g. French news articles—in its search results.

Thursday’s ruling was a preliminary decision designed to protect French newspapers from Google’s allegedly abusive practices while the competition authority works on its ultimate ruling on the legal merits. Google controls more than 90 percent of the French search market, and the agency says that makes it likely to hold a dominant position. Thursday’s decision held that Google’s recent actions were “difficult to reconcile” with the new French copyright law, which was designed to generate payments from technology platforms to news organizations.

Part of the warning when all this started was that Google could also shut down Google News in France. As so many including the article recalls, a similar thing did happen in Spain where Spain demanded that Google pay publishers for the privilege of linking to publishers in Spain. The thinking for big Spanish publishers is that they can collectively force Google to make the changes and watch the cash just roll in. That thinking proved completely bunk when Google simply shut down Google News Spain instead. Spanish publishers then saw their traffic and ad revenue plummet. This forced the publishers to walk things back and conduct business as usual after that failed bid.

Given the history of what happens when big publishers get so greedy, some observers are expecting that Google will simply pull out of France altogether. This is largely because news publishers generally need Google more than Google needs publishers in the first place. At this point, there might be further negotiations to be had, but if Google is forced to pay something other than nothing for driving traffic to publishers, then a number of observers will likely see Google’s pull out inevitable, thus causing history to repeat itself with all that traffic publishers enjoy going straight down the tubes.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.



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