On Thursday, 18 November 2021, Google said that it had reached a ‘milestone’ agreement with several German media organizations to pay for the online usage of their material. The deal is Germany’s first with publishers since the country enacted legislation on so-called neighboring rights, which arose from an EU copyright directive and have been at the center of multiple disputes between the internet giants and the news media over compensation for the use of online news and other content.
The German newspapers Zeit, Handelsblatt and Tagesspiegel, and weekly magazines such as Spiegel, WirtschaftsWoche and Manager Magazin, among others, are party to the deal with the American tech company. “For both our partners and us, these copyright agreements represent a milestone in strengthening successful partnerships,” Google said in a blog post, adding that it was pursuing discussions with other publishers.
EU and US embroil Google in legal battles
Google and Facebook are embroiled in legal battles with Brussels and EU member states over taxation, misuse of their dominating market positions, privacy concerns, and profiting from journalistic material without sharing income. In the United States, publishers of 125 newspapers in 11 states have filed or announced suits against Google and Facebook in April 2021, claiming the tech giants have unlawfully monopolized the digital advertising market and engaged in an illegal secretive deal, nicknamed ‘Jedi Blue,’ to throttle competition. We cataloged some of these disputes in our article in April this year, Newspaper lawsuits against Google and Facebook. Apart from these lawsuits, there are several antitrust lawsuits filed by individual states against the company.
French competition regulators fined Google €220 million in June 2020
French government competition regulators fined Google €220 million for misusing its dominance in online advertising in June 2020. Moreover, the company settled and agreed to make changes in its practices due to the investigation by the competition authorities. Hopefully, the settlement will redress some of the complaints by the news and digital publishers who in other countries have either filed cases against Google.
“Google used its vertically integrated business model in display advertising to gain an advantage over other competitors,” said Isabelle de Silva, the president of the French competition authority, on 7 June 2020. “This is the first investigation in the world that examines the display advertising space where Google is dominant, and the first time Google has agreed to a settlement with engagements. This case will be of interest to other regulators who are looking at the online ad market and technologies.”
The settlement in France finds Google unfairly favored its tools for buying and selling online ads over rival aggregators. As stated above by the regulators, it is the first time that the company has agreed to change its practices due to an investigation.
Google, which generally communicates by its blog posts, said it would make changes to Ad Manager, the platform used by large publishers, and alter its AdX operations that auctions digital inventory. The regulator said that Ad Manager shared pricing information of rivals to give AdX an advantage over other news aggregators and auction platforms.
Google not to appeal France settlement – changes to be global
“We have agreed on a set of commitments to make it easier for publishers to make use of data and use our tools with other ad technologies,” said Google, which stated at the time that it does not intend to appeal against the settlement. “We will be testing and developing these changes over the coming months before rolling them out more broadly, including some globally.”
Almost a year ago, in November 2020, Google announced its agreement with six French news publishers to pay for content. The development came after years of uncertainty for French publishers and the future of neighboring rights in Europe. Le Monde, Courrier International, L’Obs, Le Figaro, Liberation, and L’Express are the first named signatories.
Google has more recently agreed to pay Agence France-Presse (AFP) for the use of its content, its first contract after being fined by the French regulator for its approach to negotiating payments with news organisations. According to Medianews4u, Google earlier this year, agreed to pay US$ 76 million ($98 million) over three years to a group of 121 French news publishers to end a more than year-long copyright dispute.
Australian agreement is considered the benchmark
Australia enacted legislation requiring large digital companies such as Google and Facebook to pay media outlets for the news material that they create. Although the Australian model is said to be the best for news media publishers Google tends to use multiple channels or publishing models to fragment the publishing industry in any given geography or language.
These include the use of Google Showcase in which it signs up publications to offer their curated storage for it to promote on its media channel by that name. While Google has introduced Showcase in many markets including India, Seven West Media became Australia’s first major media business to negotiate a license agreement with Google, under which the latter would pay a one-time fee for the placement of news from the outlet on its search pages.
In India, the Indian Newspaper Society sent a letter to Google in February 2021 asking for better sharing of revenues and perhaps in the hope of preparing the ground for legal action. However, as in other countries, the news media industry could as well go to the Competition Commission of India.