Hollande threatens to charge Google for newspaper links
FRENCH PRESIDENT François Hollande has ratcheted up a dispute with Google by threatening to force internet search engines to pay a fee for linking to newspaper articles.
Publishers in France and other European countries have called for a fee to be levied on search engines for showing links to newspaper content – an idea that prompted a threat from Google last week to remove French newspaper websites from its search results.
The row has further damaged relations between France and Google after long-running disputes over the web giant’s book digitisation project and its tax status in France.
After a meeting on Monday with Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman, Mr Hollande said he hoped the dispute between the company and French newspapers could be resolved by the end of the year, but added that he was open to enacting a law “if necessary”.
Last month a group of leading French newspaper publishers called on the government to adopt a law that would force search engines to pay fees for links to their results.
They argued that firms such as Google were benefiting from advertising opportunities on which they were missing out. The call was repeated in an open letter from industry groups in France, Germany and Italy last week.
Google has strongly resisted the idea of commission fees, however.
In a letter to several French ministries this month, the company said such a move would “threaten [Google’s] very existence” and require it to remove all links to French newspaper content.
It said making search engines pay for directing people to news websites was like “asking a taxi driver to pay for taking a customer to a restaurant”.
Culture minister Aurélie Filippetti, who supports the idea of a so-called Google tax, said she was surprised by the tone of the letter, adding: “You don’t deal with a democratically elected government with threats.”
Mr Hollande’s predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy, had a strained relationship with Google.
He complained that it paid no taxes in France on advertising income generated there because its European base was in Dublin, and was sharply critical of the firm’s plan to scan all out-of-copyright books held by the major French libraries.
“We won’t let ourselves be stripped of our heritage for the benefit of a big company, no matter how friendly, big or American it is,” Mr Sarkozy said at the time.
In an attempt to mend relations, Google last year announced plans for the creation of a “European cultural institute” in Paris and major investment in education in France.