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‘It’s blackmail’: French and German publishers unite to fight #Google refusal to pay them copyright fees



France’s and Germany’s major publishers are closing ranks in an attempt to fight back against Google’s refusal to pay them when their content appears in its search index, writes Jessica Davies.

For months, European publishers have labored to re-establish a more even economical balance between the negotiating power of large tech companies like Google and publishers via a European Union Online Copyright Directive.

The goal of the law, due to take effect in France 24 October, is to give publishers the right to request platforms like Google and Facebook pay them for when they display their content online. But on Sept. 25, Google stirred up a hornet’s nest when it revealed that it had no such intention.

“We don’t accept payment from anyone to be included in search results,” wrote Richard Gingras, vp of news for Google in a blog post. “We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked. That’s also why we don’t pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result.”

French and German publishers don’t plan to stand down quietly without a fight. They’re betting on strength in numbers and as such are putting on a united front. The editors of France’s Alliance of the Press of General Information, which represents dozens of publishers, and the European Newspapers Publishers Association both issued statements condemning Google’s move as an abuse of power. Germany’s equivalent body — the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers — swiftly followed suit with its own statement of intent to stand with French publishers to challenge the ruling, and challenge Google’s position on antitrust grounds, with the European Commission.

“Google is not above the law,” said the ENPA statement. “European publishers intend to remain united in the face of intimidation and demand that EU legislation be respected. Otherwise, a free, independent and quality press will not be able to find its viability in the European Union.”

In France, Google and Facebook account for between 85% and 90% of the display market, making digital ad monetization particularly tough, according to Bertrand Gié, director of news divisions across print and digital at Le Figaro Groupe and president of France’s digital publisher association Le Geste.

“It’s like blackmail,” said Gié. “You either have to agree to give them the digital rights for your content for free; otherwise, you will disappear from the search.”

Publishers won’t, however, be dropped entirely from search results. Google has said that it will feature headlines and links to articles in the index, but not the text snippet usually seen below it that gives a contextual summary of the story nor the accompanying image.

In doing so, Google has said it is within the copyright law without the need to pay a license fee to publishers. Should publishers decide they want the additional image and context snippet, they can inform Google and it will continue to appear for those sites. But given Google has long informed publishers that their ranking will improve with accompanying image, and contextual news snippet below the headline, that has not reassured French publishers.

Some publishing execs have also said they fear it will only mean the ranking of dodgy sites purposefully spreading misinformation and hate speech, will improve. However, Google has maintained it won’t affect rankings. Gié said that publishers across different European nations would continue to meet and discuss how to push forward. One of the plans may involve revisiting the law to see if there are loopholes that allow Google to take its current stance, which can be closed in a future iteration, he added. Whether or not the publishers will succeed is another matter.

Publishers have the backing of the French government on this, but the German Federal Cartel office has previously ruled that Google had not abused its position in anti-competition cases put against it by publishers. The office stated that if the concept of “universal connectivity” is hampered by search engines like Google having to enter business negotiations with website owners, then users would suffer.

Meanwhile, smaller publishers don’t have an issue with Google’s stance either, and acknowledge Google’s role in driving their page visits. “This is a test for French publishers since France is the first country to implement the directive,” said Fabrice Fries, director general of international news agency Agence France Presse, in an emailed statement to Digiday. “It will pave the way for further negotiations at European level. It is clear that if divisions prevail, the directive is dead.”

Meanwhile the European Publishers Council will also appeal to the European Commission about the ruling, citing that it is an anti-competitive play by Google, according to Angela Mills-Wade, executive director of the EPC. “Given the strong support for publishers from the French government, who said this was unacceptable and implied they would be talking to other governments, I think we can be reassured that this behavior won’t go unchallenged,” said Mills-Wade.

She added that the stance of Google only proves why the directive — designed to level the playing field between monopolies and rights holders with incentives to license — was a necessary move. “This should be a no-brainer,” said Fries. “I remain of the view that sharing a bit of the value the publishers create with their content would be in Google’s long-term interest: The platforms need quality journalism, and quality journalism has a cost.”


‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say 



Always on’ culture poses serious risks, MEPs say ©Deagreez/Adobe Stock  

The European Parliament calls for an EU law that grants workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. In their legislative initiative that passed with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions, MEPs call on the Commission to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.

The increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees, MEPs say. Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the COVID-19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

MEPs consider the right to disconnect a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right, including via collective agreements between social partners. They should ensure that workers will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers.

“We cannot abandon millions of European workers who are exhausted by the pressure to be always 'on' and overly long working hours. Now is the moment to stand by their side and give them what they deserve: the right to disconnect. This is vital for our mental and physical health. It is time to update worker’s rights so that they correspond to the new realities of the digital age,” rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) said after the vote.


Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. This figure is expected to remain high or even increase. Research by Eurofound shows that people who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week, compared to those working on their employer’s premises. Almost 30% of those working from home report working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to less than 5% of office workers.

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Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus



Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas



At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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