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.
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.
Over more than a decade, Google and foundations run by its leaders have given hundreds of millions of dollars to journalists and news organizations around the world, sponsoring drones in Nigeria and Kenya, and local news in the US. But according to a new report, these grants tend to be made in places where the company faces pressure from politicians, the public, and the press, raising questions about whether the tech giant is committed to social good or buying itself goodwill.
The report, written by researchers at the Campaign for Accountability’s Google Transparency Project, shows a spike in funding in Europe when Google was under pressure in the mid- to late-2010s, and a subsequent uptick in the US amid a backlash that’s led to a Department of Justice investigation and calls for its breakup.
The first time I met with the French Minister of Culture, we met at their offices at the historic Palais-Royal complex which is also home to the Comédie-Française, the oldest active theater group in the world (founded in 1630). The French take their culture very seriously. One would do well to remember that in your dealings with them.
But of course, Google doesn’t give a rip about France, culture, French culture or the French Minister of Culture. And as predicted, Google are refusing to comply with the new European Copyright Directive as transposed into French law. (Once passed by the European Parliament, the Directive must be implemented at the nation state level–Google has no time for the nation state, either. The law goes into effect in France on October 24.)
Having suffered a spectacular loss in the European Parliament, the American multinational Internet company is now going to bring Silicon Valley justice to France.
Google said Wednesday it will not pay European media outlets for using their articles, pictures and videos in its searches in France, in a move that will undercut a new EU copyright law.
The tech giant said it would only display content in its search engine results and on Google News from media groups who had given their permission for it to be used for free.
The announcement, which will result in free content gaining higher visibility, comes after France became the first EU country to adopt the bloc’s wide-ranging copyright reform in July….Google had warned after the European Parliament vote that the change would “lead to legal uncertainty and will hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies.”
Of course what Google meant was that Google will do everything Google can to hurt Europe’s digital and creative communities because they’re pissed. Make no mistake, it’s not Google’s compliance with the law that is producing harm in France, it is Google’s refusal to comply that does so.
French President Macron made the country’s position clear:
“A company, even a very large company, cannot get away with it when it decides to operate in France,” the French president insisted, during a visit to mark the centenary of the La Montagne newspaper in the city of Clermont-Ferrand in central France.
“We are going to start implementing the law,” he said.
According to Emmanuel Legrand’s excellent newsletter, Google is refusing to pay French news publishers for free-riding on their expensive news when delivered in Google’s massive monopoly on news aka search results:
French minister of culture Franck Riester was particularly incensed by Google’s decision. “I met with the head of Google News [Richard Gingras] this morning at the Ministry of Culture,” said Riester to journalists on the day Google made its decision public. “I sent him a very strong message about the need to build win-win partnerships with publishers and news agencies and journalists. The answer he gave me a few minutes later was stonewalling. This is unacceptable.”
Apparently this philistine from Silicon Valley not only has no respect for the law or the democratic process, he also has no respect for French culture. Be clear on this–the French law was passed in the European Parliament over Google’s unprecedented astroturf lobbying campaign AND it was passed at the national parliament IN FRANCE. The people were heard TWICE.
And if Mr. Gingras wasn’t insulting enough to Europeans and the French people from his cozy option-packed Silicon Valley enclave, he sure doesn’t know how to handle himself with the French minister of culture. Here’s a hot tip–the Peter Pan thing is not a good look outside the Googleplex paedocracy.
But understand this–as I predicted, Google has no intention of complying with the Copyright Directive and will dump as much money as it takes in legal fees, PR campaigns, fake news and astroturf until it has exhausted all possible claims, trials, appeals, lobbying, the works. Why?
Because THEY LOST AND THEY ARE PISSED. What you are about to see play out is what happens when the richest and most powerful media company in commercial history strikes back. What happens when the Silicon Valley company with control over the world’s newspapers says a people should know when they’re conquered. No blow is too low. And I keep saying, there’s only one thing they understand which is not fines. You can’t get fines big enough to hurt them.
What gets their attention is anything that affects their behavior–and that means injunctions or prison. They have no appreciation for anything we do to create music, movies, news, photographs, illustrations or any other work of authorship. For them, it’s there for the taking.
In a prescient 2008 book review (entitled “Google the Destroyer“) of Nicholas Carr’s The Google Enigma, antitrust scholar Jim DeLong gives an elegant explanation of Google’s thuggish behavior:
Carr’s Google Enigma made a familiar business strategy point: companies that provide one component of a system love to commoditize the other components, the complements to their own products, because that leaves more of the value of the total stack available for the commoditizer….Carr noted that Google is unusual because of the large number of products and services that can be complements to the search function, including basic production of content and its distribution, along with anything else that can be used to gather eyeballs for advertising. Google’s incentives to reduce the costs of complements so as to harvest more eyeballs to view advertising are immense….This point is indeed true, and so is an additional point. In most circumstances, the commoditizer’s goal is restrained by knowledge that enough money must be left in the system to support the creation of the complements….
Google is in a different position. Its major complements already exist, and it need not worry in the short term about continuing the flow. For content, we have decades of music and movies that can be digitized and then distributed, with advertising attached. A wealth of other works await digitizing – [news,] books, maps, visual arts, and so on. If these run out, Google and other Internet companies have hit on the concept of user-generated content and social networks, in which the users are sold to each other, with yet more advertising attached.
So, on the whole, Google can continue to do well even if leaves providers of is complements gasping like fish on a beach.
What you’re seeing in France is the onset of gasping.
Copyright reform to boost the digital music market – what’s next?
Few could have missed hearing about the copyright debate in Europe. Amid cries of “upload filters”, “censorship machine”, “robocopyright” and other buzzwords, the move to bring copyright up to date came under heavy fire. The battle raged for nearly three years. The final directive was published in May. It’s an impressive result for the music sector in particular.
The legislation marks a turning point for copyright rules in Europe and beyond. All eyes are now on EU member states as they start implementing the directive into their national laws. Of course, this will bring its own share of challenges. We know the lengths some parties will go to try and hold on to the status quo.
So what was all the fuss about? It started when the EU decided it was time to clarify what the courts had already been saying about platforms. They provide access to music and other copyright material uploaded by citizens, so they need a licence and can’t rely on safe harbour legislation.
As you can imagine, this wasn’t music to everyone’s ears.
Poland has the distinction of being the first country to tip Google’s lawfare strategy against the Copyright Directive–sue to have the whole thing overturned by Court of Justice of the European Union, the “CJEU.” The CJEU has, among other things, the jurisdiction to hear an “action for annulment” filed by a EU government like NATO member Poland.
So who is in Google’s Polish footprint? According to the Google Transparency Project, we find a few revolving door people. Want to bet one of them knows how Poland came to file their case so soon?
Sylwia Giepmans-Stepien: Former Junior Officer in Poland Ministry of the Economy
Marta Kokoszka: Project Manager, Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency
Marcin Olender, Head of European Union and International Affairs Unit, Polish Ministry of Administration and Digitization
Big Door Keeps on Turning: Recent Departure from Google to (where else) Uber: Agata Waclawik-Wejman
But it’s not just the old revolving door. Google has made a substantial investment in Europe, but in particular at the University of Warsaw.
The Google Transparency Project describes Google’s investment in the University of Warsaw:
In early 2014, according to domain registration records, Google expanded its academic relationships in Europe further East, creating the Digital Economy Lab (DELab) at the University of Warsaw.
The program is described as an interdisciplinary institute funded by Google for the implementation of programs concerning the social, economic and cultural consequences of technology.
There is little public information about the extent of the partnership, or the amount of Google’s funding. However, the DELab website does offer some clues.
DELab’s director, Katarzyna Śledziewska, has a distinguished career in European policy and academic circles. She also serves as a member of another Google-funded initiative, the Readie-Europe Research Alliance for a Digital Economy….
Stay tuned, this case may turn out to be an excellent vehicle to find out more about the extent of Google’s investments.