This is an open letter regarding Google’s serious and abiding rejection of the law in Europe requiring payments for Google’s use of news clips. If you’re interested in being a signatory, details are here.
Google once again above the law?
This Thursday, October 24, should have been an important date in the history of the internet. With new European copyright protections entering into legal force in France, the press should for the first time be receiving fair compensation for the news content that it produces and is then spread on Google, Facebook and other major platforms.
As journalists we have fought long for this protection. Because quality news costs money to produce. Because the existing situation, in which Google enjoys most of the advertising revenue generated by the news that it rakes in without any payment, is untenable and has plunged the media into a crisis that is deepening each year.
The European Parliament voted for the copyright directive in March. The French parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of enacting this copyright protection into French law in July, and this move is soon to be followed by parliaments in other EU states.
Yet the law risks being stripped of all meaning before it even comes into force.Slamming the door on any negotiation, Google has cynically offered the media a choice between two bad deals.
On the one hand, the media are asked to sign a blank cheque to Google renouncing any payment for the use of their news. This would mean accepting the slow death that is emptying newsrooms in Europe as it has already done in the United States.
On the other hand, media may refuse to do so, holding out for fair payment. But Google promises them a formidable form of retaliation: reducing the visibility of their news content to a bare minimum. No photos or text would appear when users search for their news. Just a snippet of a headline, no more.
That would be suicide for the press. Because before landing on any news site, most users are guided by the world’s dominant search engine: Google. Other search engines are just not big enough. News editors know this: they simply do not have the financial means to survive the resulting plunge in internet traffic.
Google is making a ridicule of the law. It is exploiting the subtleties of national law so as to thwart its spirit. Just as it has done with national fiscal laws so as to avoid paying its fair share of taxes on a global scale.It is a fresh insult to national and European sovereignty. Google wants to demonstrate the powerlessness of public authorities to regulate platforms, and force the media to bend to its will and accept a principle of receiving no payment for its news content.
Google prefers to paint itself as being magnanimous, boasting of the financing it proposes for innovative media projects, a diversion that amounts to crumbs from the table of a group that enjoys annual revenues of $140 billion.
Now that disinformation campaigns are infecting the internet and social networks, and independent journalism is under attack in several countries within the European Union, surrendering would be a catastrophe.
We call on the public decision-makers to fight back. They must strengthen the copyright laws to prevent Google from hijacking them, and roll out a battery of measures to stop Google from abusing its overwhelming dominance in the global search-engine market.
On our side, we are calling for public support and we will lead this fight because at stake is the survival of a diverse and independent media, and the strength of our democracy.