French publishers want to charge Google for republishing articles

French publishers have relaunched a discussion about the republishing of headlines and the first paragraph of articles by Google and other search engines without compensating the provider of the content. Plans to craft a law that allows publishers to charge search engines are back on the table after the German cabinet gave its support last week to a draft law that aims to do precisely that, said the French National Magazine Publishers' Society (SEPM).

The German cabinet gave its backing to a proposal to extend copyright protection to snippets of news articles republished by search engines. Under the proposed law publishers could be allowed to charge search engines such as Google for the republishing of headlines and first paragraphs of articles.

French publishers see the backing of this draft law by the German cabinet as "proof that there is really a problem between the content producers and the filter that is between the content and the viewers", said Guillaume Frappat, head of economic and digital affairs at SEPM. "We are very interested in this initiative," he said. "We are working to see what can be done in this context."

The French publishers are thinking along the same lines as their German counterparts, and want to share in the revenue that Google earns from advertising displayed alongside news snippets. If a headline and a summary are published on Google News for instance, that is very often sufficient to satisfy the news reader, who then doesn't feel the need to click through to the publishers website, said Frappat. Because of that, publishers lose revenue, he said.

The SEPM is not the only organization that wants to further discussions about a possible solution to this problem, he said. The French Union of the Daily Press (SPQN), which represents the interests of the newspaper industry, is also interested in a debate about this, because the news publishers might be hurt more than the magazine industry, said Frappat.

SPQN director Denis Bouchez was not immediately available to comment on the initiative. Nathalie Collin, president of the French Association for Political and General News Publications, a known backer of the initiative, was also unavailable to comment on Wednesday.

"In general, publishers are interested in all the initiatives that put the debate back on the table," Frappat said. "But we don't want to break the balance between copyrights and innovation." Google is thought of as a big innovation within publishing circles, he said. The digital world demands a great deal of investment, including from publishers, but the core is still content, he said. "We want the system to realize that traffic comes from either papers or magazines," he said.

French publishers and creators of artistic work have already pushed for measures to collect part of the revenue that is earned by online advertising networks and search engines by republishing content. Last year a proposed "Google tax" law that aimed to compensate the creative industry for losses due to online piracy wasn't adopted said Frappat. The tax suggested would have been honor assessed, with advertising network operators such as Google, Microsoft, AOL and Yahoo required to declare how much revenue they made.

Despite the failure of that proposal, the issue still remains important, said Frappat. The discussions about a possible French approach are still at a very early stage, but the publishing industry would like very much to push this further, he said.

A Google representative for this story did not immediately offer a reaction to the French proposals, but last week Google spokesman Kay Oberbeck reacted angrily to the German proposals, saying that the draft law there is "a threat to the freedom of information," would mean massive damage to the German economy and would leave Germany behind internationally as a place for business.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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