Press publishers reject Google’s competition proposals

European newspaper and magazine publishers and their respective trade associations have called on the European Union’s competition commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, to reject proposal made by Google to address competition law worries.

© benqook - Fotolia

© benqook – Fotolia

In April this year the European Commission expressed concern over Google’s potential abuse of its dominant position on the market. In reply, the technology giant promised to modify its search engine results and made proposals, for example, to display links to rival search engines more prominently.

Search engine fairness

For European publishers, however, Google’s proposals do not go far enough.

Professor Hubert Burda, president of the German Association of Newspaper Publishers (VDZ) and leader of the opposition to Google’s proposals said: “If Google does not present fundamentally improved recommendations, [European press publishers] will appeal to the European Commission to use all legal instruments available to it, including a formal complaints and redress procedure.”

“A fair and non-discriminatory internet search is an essential requirement for the development of a successful European media and technology sector.”

According to data from the European Commission, Google has a market share within the European Economic Area of over 90% and due to high barriers to market entry it seems unlikely that any other search engine operator will replace Google.

In June 2013 the European Commission requested further proposals from Google.

Threat to European competition

Publishers are worried that the proposals from Google will damage competition in the EU rather than improving it.

They believe that if Google were to clearly label links to its own services, this would exacerbate the current practice of promotion and favouritism and would lead to a greater number of clicks. The use of paid rival links would also cement the company’s market position

As a result, the VDZ believes the proposals would not promote competition in the area of online searching or related markets.

Therefore, the European press publishers are calling for search results to be displayed in accordance with standard criteria which apply to all services including Google’s own services.

They also want Google to obtain consent before displaying press content which goes beyond that required for facilitating a horizontal search. A further demand is for information to be machine readable, so that usages rights and limitations of content can be established.

Full details for VDZ’s objections to Google’s proposals can be found here.

Negotiations with Google

The European Commission has been in negotiations with Google since 2012. Stakeholders were given the opportunity to submit their opinions on Google’s proposals by 27 June 2013.

The VDZ remarks that the European Commission will now have to decide whether to accept the proposals and declare them legally binding or whether to prohibit Google’s anti-competitive practices or possibly fine the company.

Rafaela Wilde is a partner at the law firm WILDE BEUGER SOLMECKE.

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