Why is Google Paying Off French Newspapers?

Earlier this week we wrote about a strange move by Google: apparently agreeing to pay the French telecoms company Orange extra to deliver its traffic -- thus abandoning the principle of net neutrality it has championed for so long. And now here's another dubious decision: allegedly offering to pay French publishers 50 million Euros in order to settle the dispute over the display of news snippets in its search results:

According to the report, French publishers turned down the €50 million (USD $66.6 million) offer and demanded a figure of €70 to €100 million instead. They also objected to the way Google proposed to disburse the money. The company reportedly offered to spend a third of the €50 million in the form of direct ad purchases while using the rest for commercial advertising partnerships between Google and the publishers. The publishers reportedly complained that too much of the proposed money was contingent on sales figures.

This suggests that Google is trying to frame these payments as more of a partnership with the newspapers than an acquiescence to their demands. That's no surprise, because if it is seen to be paying a license to display copyright material in this case, the pressure to do the same elsewhere will inevitably increase. In fact, it has already adopted this "partnership" explanation for the deal it cut with Belgian publishers last month:

We have reached an agreement that ends all litigation and represents great news for both us and the newspapers. We continue to believe that our services respect newspaper copyrights and it is important to note that we are not paying the Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in our services. From now on, Google and Belgian French-language publishers will partner on a broad range of business initiatives

It remains to be seen whether publishers in France and around the world will be happy to "partner" in this way, or whether some will hold out for a formal recognition by Google that it is paying them for a license to display snippets from their publications. Let's hope not: it would be a truly awful precedent that would undermine not only Google's business model, but much of the Web as we know it.

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