French publishers make a fool of themselves by demanding compulsory licence  29/11/2019 by Tom Hirche

French press publishers were granted their own ancillary copyright a month ago. So far, they have not been able to generate any significant income. With an antitrust complaint against Google, they now believe they can change this. A misbelief.

Adaptations to ancillary copyright law

The French government was rushing to implement the new EU Copyright Directive. The necessary changes to the law came into force in October. This includes the introduction of an ancillary copyright for press publishers, which is supposed to lead to license revenues.

As expected, the hoped-for rain of money has failed to materialise. Google, the main addressee of the new ancillary copyright law, had already announced in September that it would adapt its search results to the new requirements. And so they did.

By default, only the headlines of linked press articles are now displayed in the Google search in France. If a publisher wants a short snippet or a preview image to appear, it can set this down to the last detail itself. However, the US company will not pay any licence fees for this.

Pretended outrage

The association L'Alliance de la presse d'information générale accuses Google of trampling all over the new ancillary copyright law. In an open letter, it is also said that the Directive is being ridiculed by Google. "It is exploiting the subtleties of national law so as to thwart its spirit."

What Google actually does is strictly adhering to the legal requirements set out in the new ancillary copyright law. Only "individual words or very short extracts" may be used license-free. Headlines probably fall under this exception. Whether this also applies to snippets and thumbnails is highly uncertain.

The French publishers, however, do not want to accept this. They have filed a complaint with the national competition authority, as Golem and heise online report. Google is exploiting its dominant position, they argue.

Compulsory licence as next crazy idea

What they're trying to achieve could hardly be more absurd. Google is to be legally forced to provide a service that generates website traffic for publishers (that would be ok) and additionally pay a license fee to those publishers.

They won't succeed with that. Also, with their reaction the publishers  show how important Google's service is for them. It eventually creates a win-win situation.

In Germany, the press publishers had already made a similar attempt and failed. The Bundeskartellamt had clearly rejected the demand for a compulsory licence.

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