Google has extended a warning to France’s news publishers: quit trying to make us pay a tax on the snippets of your content displayed by Google News, or you will soon find yourselves un-Google-able. The word may sound like gobbledygook, but the danger is real: the exclusion of the country’s media from the search giant’s results is a worrisome prospect.
Google addressed its warning in the form of a letter to several French ministries earlier this month, AFP revealed yesterday. “I’m a bit surprised by the tone of this correspondence, which sounds like a threat,” replied Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti. “You don’t deal with a democratically-elected government by making threats.”
Two groups of France’s news publishers, who consider themselves insufficiently compensated for the traffic generated on Google News by bits of their own content, have been looking for a way to share in Google’s advertising revenues since the spring, according to Le Figaro.
In September they proposed a draft law akin to the so-called “Lex Google” put forth by German publishers, which would force Google to pay them to display their headlines and snippets from their articles within Google News results.
This skirmish between French media outlets and Google is the latest development in a drawn-out, globe-spanning dispute. In March 2009, Editors Weblog ran an article entitled “Google News and newspaper publishers: allies or enemies?” that described publishers’ irritation at low click-through rates from Google News search results, and the feeling that Google was profiting directly from their content.
At the time, William Echikson, Google’s Senior Manager of Communications, argued that by making the news “more accessible and more interesting” Google was beneficial to “the news industry as a whole.”
This is the same basic argument that Google made in Brazil earlier this week, when the continued deadlock between the American tech giant and Brazil’s National Association of Newspapers (ANJ) fuelled a debate during the General Assembly of the Inter American Press Association in São Paulo.
Last year, ANJ began advising its 154 member newspapers, which together account for 90 percent of newspaper circulation in Brazil, to opt out of Google News results. All of them have now abandoned the service due to the search engine’s refusal to pay for the right to use their headlines. Their hope is that users unable to find results through Google will go directly to newspapers’ websites.
Marcel Leonardi, Google’s Public Policies Director, compared the news organizations’ desire to tax Google for driving traffic toward its articles to a restaurant wishing to tax taxis for driving tourists to its tables, reported the Knight Foundation’s Journalism in the Americas Blog.
In the past, Google France has said that the proposed tax “would be harmful to the internet, internet users, and news websites that benefit from substantial traffic.” Google also stated in its October letter that such a law would “jeopardize its very existence,” and would “limit access to information.” The search engine claims to send four billion clicks toward French news sites each month. In August, Google was responsible for 40 percent of the traffic sent to media sites, according to a study by AT Internet.
Meanwhile, the company that delivers most French newspapers has been striking periodically since December, regularly depriving news readers of their print publications. Given this situation, one might expect French news organisations to be hailing the traffic that is being driven online, not boarding up thoroughfares.