After three years of intense meetings and disputes between Google and the French media, the French Competition Authority has just approved an agreement document between the parties, which obliges the Alphabet Inc. corporation to pay for the journalistic content it distributes.
What is the agreement reached by the French media with Google?
By: Gabriel E. Levy B.
The situation in Context
Digital media on the Internet have built a differential value compared to traditional media, from the possibility that millions of people can consume and create, autonomously, original content.
The phenomenon known as prosumo triggered the greatest content explosion in the history of mankind, marking levels of participation never seen before and motivating the interactive creation of content by users, which was combined with immediate and two-way communication technologies.
This change made it possible for the first time not only to witness a unique explosion of content, but also to keep and manage statistics in real time.
The market went into euphoria and ended up moving much of the advertising to the Internet: according to Nielsen figures, in the United States alone, the size of this market is around one hundred billion dollars..
But the same euphoria that triggered the massive content creation and user participation, became a sword of Damocles for digital media.
The first trigger was the growth of xenophobic, racist and extremist content advertising, which, given the impossibility of being detected by Google’s algorithm on YouTube video blogs and by Facebook’s algorithm on its walls, shared the screen with major commercial brands on a daily basis. In one such unfortunate sponsorship, a Pepsico executive discovered how his brand was preceding content that promoted ideological extremism and ordered the suspension of all forms of advertising participation on YouTube. Google promised to increase its staff to improve human control, while perfecting the algorithm, a matter that took several months to be resolved.
Partially overcoming this incident, another even more delicate one arose: raw images derived from real events emerged on social media. Images of live murders, brutal accidents captured with cell phones, suicides and a variety of other shocking content caused the desertion of many brands that did not want to continue sharing their screen next to a grotesque mirror of human decadence. Once again, Silicon Valley companies had to make an effort and adjust their content control protocols to avoid this type of material.
Parasitic use of journalistic content
Although traditional media have not been exempt from falling into fake news and, in many cases, from losing objectivity, their experience and the journalistic support that backs them up have become an important differential value in the digital universe, so it has become a global trend that citizens are choosing to return to the traditional media, as recently confirmed by a study called In News We Trust:
“Fake news has caused more than seventy-five (75) percent of global respondents to say they are now more likely to seek out trusted, high-quality news sites.”.
Similarly, the annual survey conducted by the Ogilvy Media Influence team showed that, in the face of the increase in Fake News, traditional media have become the most reliable source of consultation in the digital environment.
This has led to platforms such as Google or Facebook being used to a large extent by users to consult information and news in the traditional media. However, the advertising of this intermediation remains entirely for the platforms and the media.
It is for this reason that many countries have opted to require the large Silicon Valley platforms to pay an economic consideration for the indiscriminate use they make of traditional media content, with the case of Australia being possibly the best known so far, where, through an ordinary law, Google and Facebook are forced to pay compensation to the media.
The case of France
In 2019, following a complaint made by various associations and media outlets against the Alphabet Inc. corporation, the country’s Competition Authority initiated proceedings forcing the parties to reach a compensation agreement for content distributed through Google’s platform.
In April 2020 the French Competition Authority imposed injunctions for Google to negotiate in good faith with the media, but following non-compliance by the company, in July 2021 Google was fined €500 million.
For several years, and many meetings with more disagreements than common ground, the parties tried to reach an agreement, which finally materialized in the last few months.
Following a proposal submitted by Google on May 9, 2022, the regulator considered that the commitments offered “are substantial, credible and verifiable. It has therefore decided to accept them and make them binding.” They will apply for five years and will be renewable for a further five years.
“The French Competition Authority – an independent body that regulates the balance of power between economic parties, and prevents monopolies – accepted the commitments made by Google to negotiate and share information necessary for a transparent evaluation of the payment to the media for the dissemination of content, so that the media will benefit from money every time Google obtains economic benefits from any journalistic production.”.
The commitment mandates the consolidation of a framework for negotiating and sharing the information necessary for a “transparent” assessment of rights remuneration for news agencies and publishers, and makes these commitments binding, the agency announced in a statement Tuesday..
The regulator’s statement said that this commitment brings to a close the proceedings initiated in November 2019, in which the Alliance of the General Interest Press (APIG), the Syndicate of French Magazine Publishers (SEPM) and the AFP news agency, complained that Google was not complying with the Law on Related Rights, which obliges platforms to pay the media that create the content as “related rights”.
The president of the Competition Authority, Benoît Cœuré, declared that the agreement “makes it possible to create an environment that offers more stability and guarantees of fairness for publishers and press agencies.” .
It is important to recall that France was the first country in Europe to transpose Directive 2019/790 on copyright and related rights in the digital single market, which entered into force in June 2019 and started to apply in October 2019.
In conclusion, the settlement with Google, approved by the French Competition Authority, marks an important global precedent, which joins other national ones such as Australia for a fair compensation for the payment of journalistic content created by the media and distributed through digital platforms such as those of Facebook or Google.
 Nielsen.(2018). Impact of internet advertising.