Google ‘determined to find solution’ on ‘neighbouring rights’ for French press

It was not until January 2021, and following a call to order in April 2020 from the country's competition authority urging Google to negotiate with press publishers, that an agreement between the Silicon Valley giant and the French publishers’ lobby, Alliance de la presse d’information générale (APIG), was reached. [Jarretera/Shutterstock]

The managing director of Google France told French senators on Wednesday (23 June) he was “determined to find a solution” while a new collective management body for press publishers is due to be created, adding that he “recognises neighbouring rights”. EURACTIV France reports.

Google is working on a “solution” in the negotiations on neighbouring rights for which the French press is eligible, Sébastien Missoffe said in response to questions from senators of the culture, education and communication committee. The American giant “could certainly have done better on a certain number of points,” he added.

The French law of 24 July 2019, which transposes an EU directive on copyright in the EU single market, introduces a neighbouring right for press agencies and publishers into the country’s Intellectual Property Code. With the new law, they can now claim compensation for the re-use of their content by search engines or platforms like Google or Facebook.

However, it was not until January 2021 that an agreement between the Silicon Valley giant and the French publishers’ organisation, Alliance de la presse d’information générale (APIG), was reached.

Before that, in April 2020, the country’s competition authority (ALC) urged Google to negotiate with press publishers after it decided, in order to comply with the new law, to remove news articles, videos and photographs from its search engine and Google News, unless permission is granted by the publishers for free.

The ALC had “considered that Google’s practices […] were likely to constitute an abuse of dominant position, and caused serious and immediate harm to the press sector” and had urged it to open negotiations with publishers “in good faith”.

Google and French publishers sign agreement over copyright

In a first in Europe, Alphabet’s Google and a group of French publishers said on Thursday they had agreed a general framework over copyrights under which the U.S. tech giant will pay publishers for content online.

“The remuneration provided for in the licence agreements between each press publisher and Google is based on criteria such as, for example, the contribution to political and general information, the daily volume of publications or the monthly Internet audience,” said APIG, which brings together 283 press publishers, including Le Monde, Libération, Le Figaro, Ouest France and Sud Ouest.

However, the agreement, the result of many months of negotiations, is tough to swallow for a substantial part of the French press sector, as it only allows the signatory titles to claim compensation. For the time being, press publishers that are not part of APIG, but also the magazine press and news agencies, have been left out of the deal.

Missoffe said he hoped to reach an agreement soon with the news agencies, including AFP.

“If you recognise the neighbouring right, recognise it until the end,” said socialist Paris senator David Assouline, urging the Google representative to “put some goodwill into it”.

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A new collective management body

On 7 June, the union of magazine publishers SEPM, which represents the main groups of press magazines in France, including Prisma Media, Bayard Presse, L’Obs, Valeurs actuelles and Le Point – announced the creation of a new collective management organisation.

The collective management body aims to federate all holders of neighbouring rights who wish to opt for the collective management of such rights.

To carry out this mission, the SEPM intends to rely on the expertise of the Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers (SACEM), which deals with the copyright of music players.

“We can see that music today cannot survive without a remuneration agreement for digital distribution. The press, which has long been protected by its paper model, is now, with a few years delay, in the same cycle,” SEPM president Alain Augé told radio station Europe 1 last week.

SACEM’s director-general Jean-Noël Tronc said SACEM would “bring to press publishers its experience of more than 20 years in setting up licences with all categories of online players, its recognised know-how and its global experience of digital”,

According to Augé, the reason why negotiations are being held up is that Google knows “very well that any agreement with France (…) will cost them the world over”.

France was the first EU country to have transposed the European directive establishing this neighbouring right. A collective management body dedicated to help manage the neighbouring rights of press publishers would also be unprecedented.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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