Publishers Considers Anti-Trust Action Over Google Following the Law

French and German publishers are teaming up, calling Google following the law a violation of competition laws. They doubled down on their “blackmail” comments.

In the leadup to the passage of the near universally condemned article 11 and article 13 copyright laws, Google warned that the laws would lead to a reduction on their Google News services. Publishers, for their part, chose to ignore those warnings and even went to extremes to pass the laws including issuing threats to MEPs.

Now, countries are beginning to implement the laws. This includes France who have been moving quickly to make the laws a reality. The big publishers were clearly hoping for a massive influx of free money, but to the surprise of no one but them, that rush of free money didn’t come. Instead, Google took steps to follow the law by nuking news snippets on their Google News France service. They then offered an ability for less greedy publishers to opt out of the link tax (though it’s unclear if offering the opt out is actually legal) and permit Google to offer snippets of their news stories.

Now, publishers are crying foul because Google chose to follow the law. By nuking the snippets, Google would then become compliant with the laws because there are no snippets to tax. In response, German and French publishers are threatening legal action. They doubled down on the accusations that its “blackmail”. More from DigiDay:

The editors of France’s Alliance of the Press of General Information, which represents dozens of publishers, and the European Newspapers Publishers Association both issued statements condemning Google’s move as an abuse of power. Germany’s equivalent body– the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers — swiftly followed suit with its own statement of intent to stand with French publishers to challenge the ruling, and challenge Google’s position on antitrust grounds, with the European Commission.

“Google is not above the law,” said the ENPA statement. “European publishers intend to remain united in the face of intimidation and demand that EU legislation be respected. Otherwise, a free, independent and quality press will not be able to find its viability in the European Union.”

For most observers, there appears to be a collective “yeah, good luck with that”. This is because Google is a private company. They aren’t exactly obligated to offer links to these big publishers in the first place. So, if they choose to no longer offer snippets of news stories in a given jurisdiction because of badly thought out laws, there’s really nothing stopping them. Google is not the government, so calling the move an abuse of power is, at best, problematic.

Even if there is legal action over anti-competition in the ad space, it’s really unclear how that is going to bring snippets back. Even if Google is found guilty of anti-competition, the laws still stay in place and Google can still legally leave snippets out of their service.

So, all of this goes back to the idea that the big publishers have ultimately shot themselves in the foot when they demanded that Google pay them for the privilege of pushing traffic their direction. The big publishers are still trying to force Google to send them free money, but the path to getting there is, at best, legally ambiguous. It’ll be interesting to see if the publishers actually follow through on their threats. No doubt, they will be emboldened because threats and intimidation worked on MEPs, why not Google?

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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