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