Can I Get That In Writing? Freeriding Google threatens to “Censor” French Sites from Search Results Over Payments

Rouget de Lisle, composer of the Marseillaise, sings it for the first time

Google is threatening to ban (or as the Shill List might say, “censor”) French news sites from Google search results.  Why?  Because newspapers will be able to charge a fee for distribution and reproduction of the news through links in search results or the rebranded “Google News”.  (This may be cased on “making available”, a right that the US captures with the distribution right and the reproduction rights of copyright owners).

According to the Guardian:

Google is threatening to exclude French media sites from its search results if Paris goes ahead with the plan for such sites to receive a commission fee each time they are referenced.

It is the latest in a series of confrontations between the US company and European governments. This year German politicians examined draft legislation for a similar scheme of commission fees for newspapers sites. Editors claim the search engine is benefiting from advertising opportunities that are being lost to their sites.

Last month a group of leading French newspaper publishers called on the government to adopt a law that would force search engines to pay copyright fees for links in their results. For example, if a Google search about the French president, François Hollande, returned a list of articles by the newspapers Le Figaro or Les Echos, Google would have to pay a commission fee for displaying those links.

Charging for links in search results is actually a very simple and potentially effective way to reduce Google’s free riding on other people’s work.  It appears that the French would likely charge a fee based on the presence of the news link in Google search results, regardless of where the link came from.  (This should not be a payment in lieu of prosecuting Google for other bad acts, like supporting piracy by selling advertising to thieves and splitting the profits or promoting the sale of prescription drugs to kids without a prescription.)

Now a charge per search link is an interesting concept.  The French evidently don’t care where the link came from, just that Google has copied it and made it available either to build their traffic and brand value or to actually monetize (which is what “selling advertising” is called in the Googleplex).

Google often says breathlessly after they rip off your content, “Don’t you want to monetize it?”  So it looks like the French are simply saying the same.  We will monetize you, Google.

Aux armes, citoyens, On va vous Monétisez.”

Google surely cannot complain about the scale of payments–they are, after all, organizing the world’s information whether the world likes it or not.  Nobody said they could do it for free.  They got themselves into this situation, certainly no complaining newspaper asked them to do it.

A company like Google that is receiving a million DMCA notices a week for search (presumably from the US alone) might actually save money if they paid for links if the cost per link was lower than the cost of processing the DMCA notice.  And it certainly would be cheaper than the total transaction cost of sending and receiving the massive numbers of notices that Google attracts and has made part of its business model.

The French plan evidently would look at what news links appear in search results and charge for some of them–no question Google is getting a benefit so why not bear some of the burden of producing the information?  There’s a way for the producer to communicate how much of the burden that the producer thinks Google and other of the sainted “intermediaries” should bear–it’s called a “price”.

This new pricing model from France (and possibly Germany) is a good example of innovation in the “post web world” of apps and paywalls that Google doesn’t like, because it’s not crawlable, or not crawlable very easily.  And scraping the content behind paywalls and apps is probably a serious civil penalty if not an outright crime with no “safe harbor” to manipulate.  So instead of paying all that money to the lawyers, maybe Google could paying to the content creators for a change?  Instead of free riding, Google could pay the freight?  How disruptive for the incumbents!

Instead of complaining about disruption, Google should just update its business model, right?

What About the Illegal Stuff?

Of course, what is also interesting about this innovative free rider solution is that for the first time it places a cost on Google’s distribution of illegal sites.  And it’s not a revenue share, by the way.  It appears to be a fixed cost per link.  Kind of like television networks have to pay for programming.  You know.  A market.

Does that mean that Google will also block unlicensed sites serving links to news?  You know they won’t, so that’s a rhetorical question, but because there is a 100% certainty that Google will still serve links to sites with illegal content that they also advertise on, the French need to take the black market into account.  Like charging more for links that were not authorized in the first place.

If It’s Good Enough for Le Figaro, Is it Good Enough for Luc Besson or Mylene Farmer?

“…Google Book Search even though its leaders have not yet publicly defined the details of their practices, already appears to be a poor model for schools, since it seems to lack any kind of classification established according to reasoned principles….Unless a culture organizes [its] information, society is condemned to accept the mere dissemination of information, harmful to intellectual clarity and to a rich and harmonious public life.”

Why stop with links to French newspapers?  Google also indexes plenty of illegal links to French movies and music, too.

If that’s the case–let’s all charge Google for all links to content, Google could block all the links and piracy will significantly decline overnight.  Right?

Something tells me that’s not what they plan to do.  Google plans to just block the legal stuff then continue selling ads on sites that serve the illegal stuff that Google drives traffic to from search.

Threatening the People

It also seems that the French government has–at long last–learned how to deal with Google.

Again from the Guardian:

Aurelie Filippetti, the French culture minister, who is in favour of measures to help the struggling French media, questioned the tone of Google’s letter [announcing Google’s intentions]. “You don’t deal with a democratically elected government with threats,” she told Agence France Presse.

In an editorial, Laurent Joffrin, editor of the news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, accused Google of “straightforward blackmail” of the government and likened the company to a modern-day feudal lord.

Or as we say around MTP, “notice and shakedown.”

Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt has said that Google was a member of “the Gang of Four” oligarchy. At least in France, the ten years of turmoil is coming to and end.  Those who do not learn from history are doomed to invent it.  I can’t wait to read the Wikipedia entry on this story.

One thought on “Can I Get That In Writing? Freeriding Google threatens to “Censor” French Sites from Search Results Over Payments

  1. Excellent article. GOOG makes $14B a year in profit on $44B in revenues. I applaud fair profits. I despise GOOGs unfair anti-competitive funding of EFF and PK masquerading as public interest groups making it next to impossible for rights holders to enforce copyrights to drive their advertising revenues from piracy sites and links on the Internet.


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