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Google objects to French plans to charge for linking to publishers' content

Google has said it would no longer list links to content produced by French publishers in its search results if the country introduces a new law requiring search engines to pay a share of the advertising revenues they derive from providing the links to internet users.19 Oct 2012

Google has published a note it has prepared on proposals made by French publishing associations to licence the use of its content in this way.

According to a report by French news agency AFP, Google has said that it "cannot accept" the publishers' proposals and that it "as a consequence would be required to no longer reference French sites". Google's "very existence" would be threatened by the proposals, the internet giant has claimed, according to the AFP report.

The publishers' plans "would be harmful to the Internet, Internet users and news websites that benefit from substantial traffic" driven to the content from Google's search results, Google said. The company claimed that it helped to generate four billion clicks on the pages of French media websites every month, according to a report by the BBC.

However, the Culture Minister in France has said that she agrees with the publishers' proposals, according to AFP's report. Google was also accused of refusing to enter into "all dialogue" around the proposals by the IPG association of newspapers and magazines in France, the news agency reported.

In March the parties in Germany's ruling coalition proposed a new protective copyright law for news publishers to ensure they are compensated by "commercial traders" that use pieces of their copyrighted content online. The snippets would be copyright protected for one year, although individuals would be allowed to use the material for private use without having to pay royalties, according to the plans outlined at the time.

"The web has led to an explosion of content creation, by both professional and citizen journalists," Olivier Esper, Google France's director of public policy, said in a company blog. "So it's not a secret that we think a law like the one proposed in France and Germany would be very damaging to the internet. We have said so publicly for three years."

In May 2011 the Belgian Court of Appeals ruled that Google had infringed the copyright in newspaper reports when it linked to the papers' websites or copied sections of stories on its Google News service. The ruling backed an earlier judgment by the Court of First Instance in Belgium.

Copiepresse, an agency acting for newspapers, sued Google on behalf of the papers in 2006. The newspapers argued that they were losing online subscriptions and advertising revenue because Google was posting free snippets of the stories and links to the full article on Google News.

However, as well as stopping the Google News snippets the internet giant also stopped displaying links to the newspaper websites via its search engine results. It returned the links to search engine results only after Copiepresse gave it permission to "re-include" the sites in the indexes. Google had said it would be happy to include the Belgian newspaper websites in its search results if they would waive the potential penalties a court could issue.

The newspapers had complained that Google had been "unnecessarily aggressive" in removing them from the search engine.

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Expertise in Copyright

Copyright is an extremely valuable, often unrecognised or misunderstood right which protects a whole range of original materials including written materials, software, artistic materials, music and dramatic works. It arises automatically without the need for registration in most countries and protects these materials from unauthorised copying. It is essential in business to identify such rights, ensure they are owned by the correct entity, properly protected, enforced and exploited.

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