Publishers eye collective bargaining as way to take on platforms

A decision by Danish media outlets to join forces in negotiations with platforms is the first of its kind in Europe.[qvist / Shutterstock]

As efforts to level the playing field between publishers and platforms gather steam around the world, collective bargaining approaches are also attracting support.

Last week, 30 Danish media organisations announced the establishment of a collective bargaining assembly to negotiate as one with Google over payments for news.

The move comes at a moment when the difference in power between digital giants and media outlets, and strategies to redress this, are under increasing global scrutiny.

Denmark’s move towards a collective approach points to the complexity of publisher-platform relations. “There is increasing recognition from EU institutions that news media-tech giants’ negotiations are not just a copyright issue, but also a competition issue”, Wout van Wijk, Executive Director of News Media Europe told EURACTIV.

The Danish case

The Danish media outlets’ decision to join forces in negotiations is the first of its kind in Europe.

Based on the 2019 EU Copyright Directive’s neighbouring rights provision, which allows publishers to be remunerated for the use of their content by online platforms, the group plans to decide how the money received from these platforms will be divided among its members before going to the negotiating table.

This is intended to prevent a deal made between a tech company and one publisher setting the market standard. Van Wijk welcomed the Danish media’s move, which Google has pledged to respect, describing it as a “very positive step”.

Holger Rosendal, Head of the Legal Department at Danske Medier, the Danish Media Association, told EURACTIV that “it was obvious to us that the publishers’ right would be more valuable if publishers were given the possibility to manage it collectively.”

“Denmark is among the first countries to implement article 15 (and 17) of the [Copyright Directive] and all in all it is therefore natural that Denmark is among the first countries to form a publisher-CMO”, he added.

Elsewhere in the EU, however, collective bargaining by publishers has yet to take off.

In France, the first country to transpose the Copyright Directive into national law, a collective framework for negotiating remuneration with tech giants was agreed to by Google and publishing association Alliance de la Presse d’Information Générale (APIG) in January following months of discussion.

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.

Even so, the actual deals continue to be reached bilaterally between platforms and individual publishers, and the details of their content remain undisclosed.

In June, however, the union of French magazine publishers announced plans to create a new collective management organisation to oversee the protection of the rights of magazine publishers, news agencies and all others not covered by the APIG’s deal.

Google 'determined to find solution' on 'neighbouring rights' for French press

I am “determined to find a solution” at a time when a new collective management body for press publishers is due to be created, Google France managing director, Sébastien Missoffe told French senators on Wednesday (23 June), adding that he “recognises neighbouring rights”.

All eyes on Australia

After an eventful year in publisher-platform power dynamics, Australia has also taken steps to introduce collective bargaining.

Last week, the country’s competition authority announced plans to officialise an interim authorisation allowing members of Country Press Australia, an association of regional newspapers, to collectively negotiate payment for their content with Facebook and Google, without breaching antitrust laws.

The delicacy of addressing the broader issue of negotiations was demonstrated in February, after Facebook responded to Australia’s introduction of a News Media Bargaining Code by banning users’ access to news content for a week.

Facebook 'unfriends' Australia: uproar as news pages go dark

Facebook faced backlash from publishers and politicians on Thursday (18 February) after blocking news feeds in Australia in a surprise escalation of a dispute with the government over a law to require it to share revenue from news.

The ban was eventually lifted after the government made a number of concessions over the content of the Code, which was designed to force platforms such as Facebook and Google to pay publishers for the use of their material.

Moving forward

Calls for collective bargaining by publishers have also recently been heard in the media sectors of other countries.

After a failed attempt in 2019, a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the US recently introduced a set of bills to provide news organisations safe harbour from antitrust legislation when collectively negotiating with tech companies.

Similarly, last year, publishing trade association News Media Canada called on the Canadian government to allow collective bargaining by the industry.

When it comes to replicating the Danish format in other parts of Europe, Allan Boye Thulstrup, Vice President of Dansk Journalistforbund, the Danish Union of Journalists, said that copying the details of negotiations would be possible.

He emphasised, however, the importance of Denmark’s existing foundation of collective organisations and degree of unionisation in securing such a collective strategy.

“The basis for our collective approach is a high degree of organization with union membership close to 100% among employees in many media outlets, as well as the different media outlets all organizing in employer-organizations.”

“The negotiations can of course be replicated elsewhere, but with different preconditions you might get a different result,” Boye Thulstrup said.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

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