The Neighboring Rights of News Publishers

The French Competition Authority recently imposed a fine of half a billion euros on tech giant Google. This comes as a response of the latter failing to comply with the temporary orders regarding remunerating the country’s news publishers for the usage of their work. In addition, Google was also asked to come up with proposals within the next two months for remunerating news agencies for the further usage of their respective works failing which they would invite an additional fine of nine hundred thousand euros per day.

France is not the first to scrutinize Googles’ news content usage. Previously, Australia had directed digital firms like Google and Facebook to pay local news publishers for the utilization of their work. Regulating agencies across the world particularly in the European Union have been keeping a keen eye on the activities of Google owing to its increasing ventures into the advertising business. France, one of the more stringent jurisdictions in the EU, is likely to be only the first to take action.

The relationship between Google and local news publishers is a compelling one. Google could direct a lot of traffic to the online publishers due to its wide market outreach but along with links to the stories it also provided snippets of the news which limited the hits the actual link could get. Other alternatives made around paid content could not compete with Googles’ outreach, effectively giving Google an advertising monopoly online.

France in 2019 enacted new digital copyright law featuring the protection of Neighboring Rights. These, also referred to as Related Rights by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), are in place to protect the interests of individuals or legal entities that contribute to public availability of a work or produce subject matter which has sufficient creativity and skill to be covered in copyright law in general, yet remains uncovered in the copyright laws of various countries. These neighboring rights have been traditionally protecting performers, producers of sound recordings, broadcasting organizations and were introduced in France to include news publishers.

In response to this law Google announced its intention to remove news overviews of the content and show minimalized search results in the EU. It also suggested allowing publishers to control what to display as the overview, but did not agree to pay the publishers for search results. Google also allegedly told AFP and other leading publishers of France that it would not show their content in the country until the stories were handed over for free. The news agencies therefore accused Google of abusing its power in the market as it covers ninety percent of it. These measures by the company were considered anti-competitive by the French regulators, leading to the imposition of this historically huge fine.

This event is likely to be a precedent for the rest of the world as Google was under the lens for similar reasons throughout the world and no sanctions were imposed on it till now. While Google has previously been directed to negotiate with the publishers, these are merely suggestions and Googles’ monopolistic control over the market puts them in a disproportionately dominant position when it comes to negotiations.

In France, as elsewhere in the world, smaller news publishers who often do much of the groundwork for serious stories are struggling for the survival. Google potentially derives millions of Euros from these publishers’ works. It offered to pay seventy-six million euros to the news publishers as a remuneration for the past three years usage of their work, an amount that is vastly smaller than what demanded. The issue remains under consideration for now, with Google expressing its dissatisfaction with the decisions of the French authorities, which it sees as being unfair and economically unsustainable.

Author: Imran Rizvi, Legal Intern at PA Legal.

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