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The French government is giving contradictory signals about the so-called Lex Google, that would see the American search engine company pay for including French newspaper articles in its indexes. In a new twist, it seems that it may not become a law at all - it may become a cosy, secret agreement between Google and a select group of French media owners. This is the outcome favoured by President Hollande, according to a press statement issued after a meeting with Google and representatives of the French media owners.

The French government has been responding to a demand from its newspaper industry to do something about Google, which, the media companies claim, is ripping them off - taking advertising revenue to be more precise. Part of that response has been to facilitate discussions at the Elysee Palace itself, with President Hollande in the chair, and Google's president, Eric Schmidt, in the hot seat. (as previously reported in iptegrity.com Will Lex Google guillotine the publishers?).

At first, President Hollande had threatened to legislate if no agreement could be found. This has been interpreted as a threat to Google that it should come into line.

Now he is saying that he favours a private agreement. That is, an ageement drawn up between Google and the media companies, by their own lawyers, behind closed doors. It would not be for public circulation and would have no democratic scrutiny

Google has retailiated via the American newspaper, the New York Times, pointing out that it delivers four billion clicks per month to news outlets ( I think that may be a global figure). Its counter-threat is to extinguish the French news media entirely from its index.

The issue is that whilst President Hollande may think this is just a small domestic dispute that can be settled by corporate lawyers, he would be thinking wrong. The effects of whatever is decided in France will ripple right through the Internet worldwide.

And that is the point now being raised by some independent French journalists, who highlight the possible ramifications of such a secret agreement on the non-mainstream online media.

Guillaume Champeau, of Numerama, asks what would be the criteria for payment, who would get paid and how much? Champeau points out that potentially others, not only the media elite, but even individual bloggers, could be entitled to payment. But would they get it? A private agreement does not get any democratic scrutiny. It would only apply to those who can pay the lawyers to participate in the negotations. Obvously, that cuts out all the small independent media and bloggers. What will happen to them, if this deal gets a handshake?

This is an original article from Iptegrity.com. If you refer to it or to its content, you should cite my name as the author, and provide a link back to iptegrity.com. Media and Academics - please cite as Monica Horten, Lex Google: a private law for French Internet? , in www.iptegrity.com, 6 November 2012 . Commercial users - please contact me.

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About Iptegrity

Iptegrity.com is the website of Dr Monica Horten. I am an  independent policy advisor, with expertise in online safety, technology and human rights. I am a published author, and post-doctoral scholar. I hold a PhD from the University of Westminster, and a DipM from the Chartered Institute of Marketing. I cover the UK and EU. I'm a former tech journalist, and an experienced panelist and Chair. My media credits include the BBC, iNews, Times, Guardian and Politico.

Iptegrity.com is made available free of charge for non-commercial use. Please link back and attribute Dr Monica Horten.  Contact me to use any of my content for commercial purposes.  

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