Few weeks after a law proposal, the German so called “Lex Google”, currently at the exams of the German Parliament, the debate over online copyright seems to revive also in Italy.
“Lex Google” means a regulatory framework that introduces forms of remuneration for newspaper’s publishers whose news are enjoyed through indexing by the most popular search engine in the world, Google.
The issue is related, without doubt, to the editors of newspapers and magazines, but it is symptomatic of the need, now an urgent need, of a comprehensive regulation system of what happens in the “wonderful world” of the Internet.
On October 24Th, the Italian publishers gathered in Fieg (Italian Federation of Newspaper Publishers), the French publishers of Ipg (Association de la Presse), those of the Germans Bdzv (Bundesverband Deutcher Zeitungsverleger) and the VDZ (Verband Deutcher Zeitschriftenverleger) have decided to come together to make a “common front” to defend the copyright of their editorial content online.
The editors of three of the major EU Countries require the inclusion in the regulatory framework of their Countries (but the phenomena seems to be “universal”) of a discipline that defines a system of intellectual property rights which can give rise to forms of virtuous cooperation between rights holders and content publishing giant network.
If on the one hand, in fact, the decrease in sales of paper copies of newspapers is partially “compensated” by the use of online news (grown strongly in the last two years), they complains, in all the three Countries, an overall situation of difficulty for the publishing industry newspaper. Publishing companies accuse, in addition to the general economic crisis (leading to a widespread reduction in consumption), an unfair use of their content by search engines (Google in particular), which continue to increase
their revenue through advertising.
It is interesting to quote some data related to Italy, France, Germany, supplied during a meeting held in Rome on October 24th, 2012:
- In Italy, every day more than 24 million people read a newspaper. Between 2009 and 2011, the number of users of newspapers’ websites, on an average day, rose from 4 million to 6 million users, with an increase of 50 %. Compared with the overall internet users, readers of online newspapers represent the 47 % of the whole market;
- In France, 97 % of French people read every day, at least, one paper (newspaper or magazine), 25 million of French people, every month, consult, at least, an information website. 8 million mobile users per month and 1.4 million people each quarter access to editorial content through their tablets. Even young people are attracted to it: 70 % of those who are between 25 and 35 years of age read newspapers on the internet.
- In Germany, 47 million people over 14 years of age read a daily newspaper every day (67 % of the total population) and the websites of German newspapers are visited every month by 27.7 million of unique users (40 % of the population). 92 % of the German population over 14 years of age – that is more than 65 million readers – read magazines. Internet sites and other applications of the German publishers count 13.8 million users, representing 72 % of the total traffic of the Internet. Finally, 66 % of those
who use an iPad has a newspaper’s subscription. The digital market now accounts 10 % of the German publishers’ turnover.
We would like to remind that for a similar problem of indexation of news by search engines the Associação Nacional De Jornais (Anj) of Brazil decided to come out of Google News.
Carlos Fernando Lindenberg Neto, President of Anj said that being on Google news is not a benefit for them. Google News has commercial benefits from their content but refuses any kind of remuneration. In Brazil Google News was abandoned by 154 newpapers’ publishers, representing the 90 % of the total newspaper market.
Google denies all accusations, with the usual thesis that the presence on the search engine increases the dissemination of news in the network, and then stimulates potential readers in buying the newspapers in the print edition or in the digital one.
The phenomena – in its opposing interpretations – has planetary features.
As it happened in the music industry, even the newpaper publishing sector is undergoing the same decrease of total revenues, year after year: a growing portion of revenues comes now from the Internet, but this increase does not compensate the decrease in revenues of the “phisycal” business.
We are assisting to a sort of “transfer of wealth” from publishers to aggregators. With
a small detail: publishers invest in quality content while aggregators don’t.
In economy, this phenomena is called “parasitic income”.
In other words, the Internet is leading to a continuous process of impoverishment of these cultural industries, reducing the chance of producing quality content.
If it’s true that the Internet multiplies the chances of universal access to content (with great benefits for democracy), it’s also true that it impoverishes content producers: this happens for newspaper publishers, as well as for television broadcasters.
We can summarize that people likes the news (on the internet), but this way doesn’t pay news’ producers. And that’s true for all the quality content, from music to audiovisual media.
According to some, the publishers of France, Germany and Italy aim to emulate what
happens in the United Kingdom, where the Newspaper Licensing Agency began to ask for money to news aggregators. The difference is that, in Germany and France, publishers are thinking of asking a commission not only for subscriptions services, but even for the free ones detected by Google.
The initiative of the French and German publishers is supported by their respective
Governments: Merkel has taken up the battle of the publishers because she considers it proper, to preserve employment and a material and immaterial wealth of the Country. The French Minister for Innovation and Digital Economy, Fleur Pellerin, stated that the “war against aggregators” must be fought together at a European level.
As far as Italy is concerned, there has been no position taken by Monti.
We would remind that in January 2011, the Italian Antitrust Authority concluded an investigation launched in 2009 against Google for abusing its dominant position. Google
took a series of commitments that were supposed to avoid the risk of distortion of competition.
In that occasion, The President of Fieg Carlo Malinconico declared: “The commitments taken by Google change, at a global level, some editorial and commercial policies related to Google News and AdSense, in a perspective of greater transparency and collaboration.”
This is a first response, which must follow, as noted by the Authority, the intervention of the legislation to regulate the remuneration of the companies that produce editorial content online, against economic exploitation of their works by others subjects.
Then Malinconico added: “At the same time, Fieg is watching with great interest what the Communications Regulatory Authority would take to protect the copyright”.
After almost two years, no sign of intervention came out by the Agcom. At the beginning of October 2012, during a conference organized by ConfindustriaCultura, the Sub- Secretary Peluffo claimed: “I renew the invitation to the “new” Agcom, which I had already turned to the previous Council, to quickly approve the Regulation against piracy.”
From the Agcom, now, all is silent. Although, few days after, the Commissioner Preto affirmed: “In this new scenario, the copyright on the internet is much more important. The protection of intellectual property on the web may not be a taboo, but it must
be a driving force for innovation, for the development of legal content and the
economy of the sector. We don’t want to gag the people on the network, but to ensure respect for the rights and rules. The network is not a no man’s land. (…)
In this direction, the Agcom enforcement must be based on the principles of
proportionality, effectiveness and promptness.”
In the following days, the French President Hollande met the Ceo of Google, Schmidt, leaving understand that, by the end of the year, a solution should have be found, and that if Google will not begin negotiations with publishers, the Government will intervene.
However there’s not a general agreement. The news websites that don’t depend on newspapers and magazines or large publishing groups have been formed in Spiil (Press Association Online), and do not share the introduction of a tax, regarded as a wrong choice and short-sighted in the long run, because will lead to the reduction of pluralism of information. The Spiil believes that Google should pay full taxes on profits, which, as many well know (and as we have reported on this blog), “Big G” avoids,
operating from Ireland.
For its part, to a threat, Google responds with another threat, that is to stop indexing the articles of the French papers (in other words: “will delete the links to the websites of newspapers”), just as recently happened in Brazil. The French Government, however, seems very fierce: especially the Minister of Culture, Aurélie Filippetti, who runs the file, does not seem willing to give. The standoff has only begun. Google says that it cannot accept such a measure, which “calls into question its existence”.
We hope that, beyond the rhetoric of the magic Internet, we’ll return to understand that the news in the papers are the result of someone’s work and, as such, something to be paid. Like a novel, a cd, a movie…
The “myth of the manna” of the free Internet should be debunked. It is urgent to develop a modern system of intellectual property rights.
There are not yet hard facts (also for the continuing lack of transparency in Google’s economy), but, according to some analysts, in 2012 Google exceeded Rai in advertising. In late September, at a conference, Antonio Pilati (Board Member Rai, former adviser Agcom and Agcm) has argued that “Google is now the second largest
advertising operator in Italy. He has exceeded Rai and is second only to Publitalia”.
We remind that last July, Fabio Vaccarono left Manzoni Advertising, advertising dealer
of L’Espresso-Repubblica, to become the Country Manager of Google Italy: a further confirmation of the vocation to growth of the giant in the business of the Italian advertising.
We will see what will be the outcome of this story, and certainly will be back soon to write on this blog.