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

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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.”

EU

Horizon Europe given the go-ahead.

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"The Horizon Europe research, innovation and science programme will deliver economic recovery in Europe. But partnerships between public and private bodies must play a key part in rolling out the policy objectives of Horizon Europe". That is according to Abraham Liukang, the Huawei chief representative to the EU institutions.

Abraham Liukang, the Huawei chief representative to the EU institutions.

Abraham Liukang, the Huawei chief representative to the EU institutions.

Horizon Europe given the go-ahead.

EU Governments this week approved the legal texts that will give the formal go ahead to the new Horizon Europe programme. Negotiations will now shortly commence with the European Parliament to iron out any differences that exist between MEPS and EU governments. The bottom line is this:- legislators and key stakeholder groups alike are working towards ensuring that the Horizon Europe programme can and will commence in January 2021.

 

Partnerships – central element of Horizon Europe.

Partnerships between public and private bodies will be a key element of Horizon Europe. This is particularly the case when it comes to involving the ICT sector in Horizon Europe. There are going to be a number of hardcore ICT public private partnerships that will build the next generation of smart services and networks (SNS) in Europe. In reality, SNS will be the key vehicle that will be used to prepare Europe to introduce 6G later in this decade. There will also be a joint undertaking that will be devoted to improving the capability of Europe in the area of key digital technologies.

 

ICT – a driver for positive change.

It is impossible to de-compartmentalise or divorce the ICT sector from other parts of Horizon Europe. This is because, as a society we are now witnessing a digital transformation. Technology is now modernising the industrial, agriculture, health, education, smart city, energy and transport sectors. There is a whole ambit of research activity that is enshrined in Horizon Europe that contains a technological component. In other words, research and innovation actions weave through the whole of Horizon Europe from the sections of this programme that deal with basic science right through to the delivery of new ICT products into the marketplace.

 

International Co-operation.

Horizon Europe is an open programme. This means that research consortia are open to participation for private, public, research, educational and public bodies from all countries around the world. In fact, organisations from circa 185 countries took part in Horizon 2020 during the past seven years alone.

If one wants to develop the best products for the marketplace then one needs to co-operate with the best talent and expertise that exists within these specific fields. I welcome too the publication that was made by the European Commission today that will support the development of a common European research area (ERA). We certainly do need a higher level of mobility of researchers in an out of Europe, including from third countries. Reciprocity, transparency and openness must underpin the relationships that third countries from around the world have with the European Union on the research front.

 

ICT will deliver Economic Recovery.

International organisations such as the OECD, the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank all point to the economic benefits that accrue to countries from investing in basic and applied research. The EU leaders have set a target of investment into research and science at 3% GDP. This target can be achieved by fully rolling out the Horizon Europe initiative. Research, innovation and science are economic instruments.

25% of all global research @ development is carried out in Europe. This is a very strong foundation for Europe to build upon – as the EU seeks to strengthen it’s industrial sector via the use of technology.

There are many global challenges that we all must face together. Co-operation and collaboration between public and private bodies from different countries around the world is an imperative if we are to successfully and effectively tackle these grand societal challenges.

Abraham Liukang, is the chief Huawei representative to the EU institutions.

 

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Brexit

Brexit - EU starts infringement process for UK's failure to act in good faith

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As anticipated, the European Commission today (1 October) has sent the United Kingdom a letter of formal notice for breaching its obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement. This marks the beginning of a formal infringement process against the United Kingdom. It has one month to reply to today's letter.

The Withdrawal Agreement states that the European Union and the United Kingdom must take all appropriate measures to ensure the fulfilment of the obligations under the Agreement (Article 5). Both parties are bound by the obligation to cooperate in good faith in carrying out the tasks stemming from the Withdrawal Agreement and must refrain from any measures which could jeopardise the attainment of those objectives.

The UK government tabled the UK Internal Market Bill on 9 September the Commission consider this a  flagrant violation of the Protocol on Ireland Northern Ireland, as it would allow the UK authorities to disregard the legal effect of the Protocol's substantive provisions. Representatives of the UK government have acknowledged this violation, stating that its purpose was to allow it to depart in a permanent way from the obligations stemming from the Protocol.

The UK government has failed to withdraw the contentious parts of the Bill, despite requests by the European Union. By doing so, the UK has breached its obligation to act in good faith, as set out in Article 5 of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Next steps

The UK has until the end of this month to submit its observations to the letter of formal notice. After examining these observations, or if no observations have been submitted, the Commission may, if appropriate, decide to issue a Reasoned Opinion.

Background

The Withdrawal Agreement was ratified by both the EU and the UK. It entered into force on 1 February 2020 and has legal effects under international law.

Following the publication by the UK government of the draft ‘United Kingdom Internal Market Bill' on 9 September 2020, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič called for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee to request the UK government to elaborate on its intentions and to respond to the EU's serious concerns. The meeting took place in London on 10 September between Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.

At the meeting, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič stated that if the Bill were to be adopted, it would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement and of international law. He called on the UK government to withdraw these measures from the draft Bill in the shortest time possible and in any case by the end of the month of September.

At the third ordinary meeting of the Joint Committee on 28 September 2020, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič again called on the UK government to withdraw the contentious measures from the bill. The UK government on this occasion confirmed its intention to go ahead with the draft legislation.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides that during the transition period, the Court of Justice of the European Union has jurisdiction and the Commission has the powers conferred upon it by Union law in relation to the United Kingdom, also as regards the interpretation and application of that Agreement.

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Cyber-espionage

EU countries test their ability to co-operate in the event of cyber attacks

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EU member states, the EU Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and the European Commission have met to test and assess their co-operation capabilities and resilience in the event of a cybersecurity crisis. The exercise, organized by the Netherlands with the support of ENISA, is a key milestone towards the completion of  relevant operating procedures. The latter are developed in the framework of the NIS Co-operation Group, under the leadership of France and Italy, and aim for more coordinated information sharing and incident response among EU cybersecurity authorities.

Furthermore, member states, with the support of ENISA, launched today the Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network (CyCLONe) aimed at facilitating cooperation in case of disruptive cyber incidents.

Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said: “The new Cyber Crisis Liaison Organization Network indicates once again an excellent cooperation between the member states and the EU institutions in ensuring that our networks and critical systems are cyber secure. Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility and we should work collectively in preparing and implementing rapid emergency response plans, for example in case of a large-scale cyber incident or crisis.”

ENISA Executive Director Juhan Lepassaar added: "Cyber crises have no borders. The EU Agency for Cybersecurity is committed to support the Union in its response to cyber incidents. It is important that the national cybersecurity agencies come together to coordinate decision-making at all levels. The CyCLONe group addresses this missing link.”

The CyCLONe Network will ensure that information flows more efficiently among different cybersecurity structures in the member states and will allow to better coordinate national response strategies and impact assessments. Moreover, the exercise organized follows up on the Commission's recommendation on a Coordinated Response to Large Scale Cybersecurity Incidents and Crises (Blueprint) that was adopted in 2017.

More information is available in this ENISA press release. More information on the EU cybersecurity strategy can be found in these Q&A and this brochure.

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