Summoned by French courts over its plunder of newspapers, the monopoly has responded with its middle finger. Is Google above our institutions?
What do the laws of France matter to the colossus of Mountain View? Apparently not much, as demonstrated by recent developments in the affair involving “neighboring rights.” This is so not as much because it affects your newspaper or other newspapers and thus the freedom of the press, but for what it says about the outrageous arrogance of the numeric giant that now considers itself above democratic institutions. Google has revealed this attitude to us most clearly.
To better understand the underpinnings of this display of strength, here is a summary of recent events. We have told you many times, dear readers, how Google’s monopoly and its machinery for extracting information (including yours) earns monstrous profits from news articles without paying a penny for research or reporting, or basically, for journalism. By placing itself between content (without which there wouldn’t be much to Google) and online researchers, Google makes off with nearly all the upstream advertising profit. Our work is their gain.
To address this situation, a European Union copyright directive was enacted as law in France instituting what are known as “neighboring rights” or producer’s rights to restore fair compensation to newspapers for their work. Google first attempted to impose zero renumeration with the threat that if we did not accept its diktat, then it would remove us from its search engines, effectively taking us out of the picture. When it was summoned to negotiations by the Competition Authority, Google tried to modify its payment to us by including us in its “showcase” system, which amounted to siphoning off our subscription income in addition to advertising! We refused. Then a second decision by the Competition Authority rejected Google’s plan by emphasizing the “exceptional seriousness” of its behavior and imposing a 500 million euro fine.
In the same decision, the Competition Authority ordered the California giant to resume negotiations and come up with a serious offer on pain of a daily fine. At this point, the American firm’s disdain reached a new level with its proposal that all newspapers, and thus our newspaper, should accept seven times less than it had offered during the first discussion! That’s right, seven times less! Its global profits had more than doubled in the meantime, probably in France as well, meaning, in other words, the middle finger.
We’ve seen it a hundred times in Westerns and gangster movies. The bandit offers his victim breadcrumbs in exchange for his land or business, and then reduces his price when the victim protests. This villainous tactic is the same one Google is using. And while we’re thinking about movies, fans of “The Magnificent Seven” will recognize how the bandit leader Calvera declares, “God wouldn’t have made sheep if he did not want them sheared.”
This is fine with Google as far as its digital fleecing is concerned, and that includes its threats. It was only last July that we strongly condemned the misdeeds of the Mountain View leviathan in our columns. Punishment was not long in coming, as Google canceled a bit of advertising in response to our campaign, while providing advertising to our competition. We were then excluded from publicity with Google’s affiliate YouTube, a move which had little effect on us, but it says a lot about these people.
We should also remember that the lawyer who represented the magazine publishers union in court was ruined by working on behalf of none other than Google!
It’s clear that we aren’t surrendering anything no matter what the price. But again, other than the issue of freedom of the press, what does this say about the future of our institutions?
An EU directive, a law and two decisions by the Competition Authority have identified predatory practices by Google and confirmed that profits from journalism must be equitably shared. Was this all for nothing? The California giant is within its rights to defend its titanic earnings, but like everyone else, it must also respect the law. It is rather obvious that Google doesn’t care about this. So ladies and gentlemen, deputies and senators of France, know that Google considers you insignificant. It wipes its feet on your laws.