Google has faced off several times against European news publishers and governments in Germany and Spain, seeking to get the company to pay copyright fees for the indexing of news content. Google has largely prevailed in these instances. However, that hasn’t deterred publishers from continuing to make the case that the US internet giants should pay for their content.
A new consortium of nine European press agencies is now arguing that Google and Facebook make money from news content and pay little or nothing for it. They also assert that news organizations — “a pillar of democracy” — are financially vulnerable, while Facebook’s and Google’s profits are soaring.
Google (and presumably Facebook) take the position that inclusion and exposure of publisher content drive online traffic and therefore is a benefit rather than a detriment. Indeed, when German publishers had their snippets and thumbnails removed from Google in the wake of a dispute over a 2013 “Ancillary Copyright” Law, they saw significant traffic declines. They subsequently requested the return of snippets, seemingly acknowledging Google’s position.
But where Google sees indexing of news content as a benefit, the publishers see exploitation. The persistence of these publisher arguments is fueled by perceptions of fundamental unfairness, objective financial need and European nationalism (vs. US tech companies). However, it appears from the report that members of the European Parliament are ambivalent or cool to efforts to “tax” Google and Facebook to subsidize publishers.
It remains to be seen whether there are enough sympathetic European legislators pick up the cause and try to devise a pan-EU response to the publishers’ arguments. In general, European politicians are more inclined to intervene in the market than their US counterparts. And I suspect there’s at least a possibility that some official initiative might commence, given the general antipathy toward the US-based companies.
The news agency consortium included press agencies from France, Germany, the UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands.