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Why Is Google Paying French Publishers but Fighting Australia?

Search Engine Journal has been reporting on the ongoing fight between Google and Australia regarding the News Media Bargaining Code.

Confusion ensued when Google continued to disagree with pending legislation that would force them to pay Australian publishers for the pleasure of showcasing their content in the SERPs, while simultaneously signing a deal to pay French publishers for their content.

However, when you look at the two agreements side by side, there is a clear difference.

The Story Behind the French Agreement

In 2020, French readers saw news results from European publishers pulled from the SERPs in response to a copyright law that was passed.

In October, Google announced that they were investing $1 billion over three years to pay publishers for content showcased on Google News Showcase.

The agreement with France allows Google to negotiate individual licenses whereby payment will be based on specific and measurable metrics. This includes Google paying on behalf of the reader for any content published behind paywalls, allowing users access to content they wouldn’t be able to see unless they made a payment.

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The Story Behind the Australian Agreement

The main difference between the French agreement and the Australian conflict is that the latter is looking for remuneration for Google linking to their content in the SERPs and advanced notice of ‘deliberate algorithm changes’ that would impact the news media business.

In a Senate hearing that took place on Friday 22nd January, Google Australia’s Managing Director, Mel Silva, outlined issues with the News Media Bargaining Code and proffered three technical amendments that would make the Code “workable” for them.

“First, rather than payment for links and snippets, the Code could designate News Showcase, and allow Google to reach commercial agreements to pay Australian news publishers for value in addition to the valuable traffic we already provide through Search.”

Mel Silva was essentially offering the same deal that was struck with France, whereby payment would be made to publishers agreeing to operate through the Google News Showcase.

This would give Australia two bites of the pie as their content would be available in organic search results and the Showcase.

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However, no payment would be made for content shown in organic search results, only news stories within the Showcase would receive compensation.

“Secondly, the Code’s final offer arbitration model, with biased criteria presents unmanageable financial and operational risk for Google. If this is replaced with standard commercial arbitration based on comparable deals, this would incentivise good faith negotiations and ensure we’re held accountable by robust dispute resolution.”

This point was also discussed in a blog post published by Google, which outlines eight reasons why the News Media Bargaining Code is unworkable. Google believes that the arbitration process wouldn’t consider the benefits that publishers derive from Google and would be unfairly biased towards the publisher’s costs.

“Finally, the algorithm notification provision could be adjusted to require only reasonable notice about significant actionable changes to Google’s algorithm, to make sure publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them.”

Google believes that this aspect of the Code would essentially mean the company gives news publishers special treatment that would leave other businesses that use organic search as a medium to advertise their business at a disadvantage.

Why Google is Disputing the News Media Bargaining Code

In addition to the three points outlined in Mel Silva’s opening statement at the Senate hearing, Google continued explaining why they were opposed to the potential legislation but supportive of a fair Code in a blog post.

Additional points specify that the Code would essentially break Google Search and result in Google having no choice but to pull their services from Australia:

Google also references others who agree that organic search should remain a free commodity, where no payment is required by either party to fill the search results.

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The tech giant reiterates that they are willing to pay news publishers but only if they operate through Google News Showcase and make ‘reasonable amendments to the arbitration model’; however, they did not specify in the post what that would look like.

Finally, Google points out that they do not show full articles but utilise the algorithm to link users to articles, they are not responsible for declining newspaper revenue and that the search engine makes significant contributions to Australia every year.

Are Only Google & Facebook Being Targeted?

On Dec. 8, the Treasurer and the Minister for Communications published a joint media release to “address the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms.”

They stated in the release that the Code would apply only to Google Search and Facebook News Feed initially and that other platforms could be added in future should they showcase a ‘bargaining power imbalance’.

Therefore, if the Code does go through other search engines could find themselves facing similar demands.

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Summary

It appears that Google is not opposed to paying for news content, but to the process outlined in the Code.

Similarly, if they are the only search engine platform being targeted by the Code, would this put them at a disadvantage as other companies would not have to legally pay news publishers to advertise their content in the organic search results?

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