New copyright law in France will limit what search engines can display

By Maddie Thomson | 02 Oct 2019

France was the first country in the EU to implement new EU online copyright directive, Article 11, which allows the press to request payment from technology giants like Google, Twitter and Facebook when their content is displayed online. However, the hopes of French publishers getting money from Google were short-lived, with Google refusing to pay publishers the expected copyright licensing fee. Instead, Google has opted to scale back their search offerings in France, unless publishers in the country ‘opt-in’ to waive the copyright law.

In a blog published by Google in September 2019, Google News VP Richard Gingras defends the business decision to bypass the EU legislation change, explaining their approach to search: “People trust Google to help them find useful and authoritative information, from a diverse range of sources. To uphold that trust, search results must be determined by relevance—not by commercial partnerships... 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.” Gingras further supports Google’s decision, highlighting the benefits the site provides for publishers, and committed support to the industry by providing a platform which drives viewers and revenue to publisher’s websites.

Google has found a way to work around the French law change by reducing the content it displays to only very short extracts of news content and links, as opposed to an overview of an article. However, it still gives publishers the option to ‘opt-in’ to have more of their content displayed on its search engine results page.

A similar situation unfolded about five years ago in Germany after a piece of restrictive copyright was put in place. Google bypassed the law to avoid paying fees by reducing the content displayed in their search engine and, as a result, publishers saw a significant decline in their search traffic. German publishers came back to Google, requesting their snippets back.

French publishers now have to decide between demanding a licensing fee from Google and face the possibility of a decline in their web traffic due to minimal the content displayed. Or, work alongside Google but forgo any chance of generating revenue through copyright licensing fees.