Google is to donate €60 million (US$81 million) to promote digital publishing in France. As with a smaller payment in Belgium, it ends a battle over links from Google News — but without Google admitting wrongdoing.
The Belgian case involved the question of whether or not Google should be allowed to include “snippets” of news articles alongside its links to the original. An impending battle about whether this constituted copyright violation or fair use was headed off by Google agreeing to spend US$6.5 million on advertising in the newspapers. That meant it wasn’t technically agreeing to pay for using the snippets — and thus not technically conceding it had a duty to do so.
The French case is slightly different. Newspaper groups there think it’s OK for Google to use the snippets and link to stories, but that it should share the revenue it makes from displaying advertising alongside the links. Their argument is that without the newspaper sites there’d be nothing for Google to link to, no reason for people to use Google News, and thus no audience for the advertising.
French politicians had gone so far as to consider imposing a specific tax on the revenue from those links, prompting Google to threaten to stop linking to French newspapers altogether and warning this would cost the newspapers inbound traffic and harm the newspaper site’s ad revenues.
With the situation looking like everyone could end up losing out, another carefully crafted deal has been worked out. Google will pay for a “Digital Publishing Innovation Fund” that will “help support transformative digital publishing initiatives for French readers.”
Google has also agreed to “deepen our partnership with French publishers to help increase their online revenues using our advertising technology.” It appears that’s management-speak for giving French publishers a discount if they advertise their sites through Google.
Once again Google is handing money over to publishers who’d demanded compensation for being included in Google News — and once again Google is careful to avoid the money being a directly-related payment and thus establishing the principle that newspaper groups are entitled to receive cash if Google uses snippets and links to them.
The big question now is how many other countries’ publishers will call this out as a technicality and demand that if French and Belgian newspapers are getting compensated, so should they.