Google has agreed to pay $US76 million ($98 million) over three years to a group of 121 French news publishers to end a more than year-long copyright spat

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Google has agreed to pay $US76 million ($98 million) over three years to a group of 121 French news publishers to end a more than year-long copyright spat, documents show.

Key points:

  • Agence France-Press and other media outlets are angry about the deal which they say is unfair and opaque
  • Australia is seeking to impose a digital media code of conduct that would force Google to pay for news
  • Under the French deal publishers will have to sign up for the Google News Showcase platform, recently launched in Australia

The agreement between Google and the Alliance de la presse d’information generale (APIG), a lobby group representing most major French publishers, was announced previously, but financial terms had not been disclosed.

The move infuriated many other French outlets, which deemed it unfair and opaque.

Publishers in other countries will scrutinise the French agreement, the highest-profile in the world under Google’s new program to provide compensation for news snippets used in search results.

Agence France-Press (AFP) and other French news providers that do not belong to the group are not part of the agreement and are pressing forward with various actions against Google.

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Google threatens to withdraw from Australia

“These opaque agreements don’t ensure the fair treatment of all news publishers, since the calculation formula isn’t made public,” the union for independent online news publishers Spiil said this week.

The accord follows France’s implementation of the first copyright rule enacted under a recent European Union law that creates “neighbouring rights”, requiring large tech platforms to open talks with publishers seeking remuneration for use of news content.

In Australia, MPs have drafted legalisation that would require Google and Facebook to pay publishers and broadcasters for content.

Google has threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia if the country adopts that approach, which the company called “unworkable.”

A woman walks below a Google sign on the company's campus

Jurisdictions around the world are weighing up measures to rein-in tech giants.(AP: Jeff Chiu)

Making Google pay for news

The French documents, seen by Reuters, include a framework agreement in which Google will pay $US22 million ($28 million) annually for three years to a group of 121 national and local French news publications after signing individual licensing agreements with each.

The second document is a settlement agreement under which Google agrees to pay $US10 million ($13 million) to the same group in exchange for the publishers’ commitment not to sue over copyright claims for three years.

Publishers would commit to an upcoming new product called Google News Showcase that would allow publishers to curate content and provide limited access to paywalled stories.

Google declined to comment on terms of the deal when contacted by Reuters.

The company recently launched Google News Showcase in Australia.

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The Federal Government says it won’t back down on media ownership reform.

Pressure is mounting on Google globally to pay for news content, as the industry’s advertising and revenues have plummeted with the rise of digital platforms.

In Spain and Germany, publishers have tried but failed to charge Google for displaying excerpts, or snippets.

German publishers lost a legal battle in 2019 for 1 billion euros ($1.6 billion) worth of copyright fees since 2013.

The text of the EU “neighbouring rights” rule was aimed at creating a new sustainable stream of revenues for news publishers.

In the United States, the news industry is backing legislation that would allow it to negotiate collectively with the big platforms without violating antitrust law.

A report issued to US Congress recently said dominant tech firms have harmed the news industry because they “can impose unilateral terms on publishers, such as take-it-or-leave-it revenue sharing agreements”.

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