Publishers condemn the EU-Google deal
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Publishers condemn the EU-Google deal

A group of publishing companies have attacked the EU’s decision to settle an antitrust dispute with Google, describing it as “fundamentally defective”

Yesterday Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia confirmed rumours about the Commission’s proposed deal with Google, saying that it had accepted the company’s improved offer to change the way it presents online search and search advertising features on its website.

But the decision has infuriated content providers angry about the way that the search engine reveals their material online.

Google’s proposals come in response to an investigation launched by the Commission in 2010. The EU last year accused Google of abusing its dominant position in the way it provided four of its services.

These included its use of original content from third party websites in its own specialised web search services, agreements that oblige third party websites to obtain all or most of their online search advertisements from Google, and the way it presents its own services in the search results.

This is the second set of proposals the company has offered. In April it promised to give content providers an opt-out from having their content used in Google’s specialised search services, to remove exclusivity requirements in its agreements with publishers for the provision of search advertisements; and remove restrictions on the ability for search advertising campaigns to be run on competing search advertising platforms.

At the moment, Google imposes exclusivity deals with publishers over the provision of Google search advertisements on their websites. In practice this means that publishers must obtain all or most of their online adverts from Google, which effectively limits the opportunity for Google’s competitors to do deals with these publishers.

Almunia subsequently told Google it needed to make more concessions.

Google has now pledged that whenever it promotes its own specialised search services, the services of three rivals, selected through an objective method, will also be displayed in a way that is clearly visible to users and comparable to the way in which Google displays its own services.

The Commission says it will inform the 18 parties that had formally complained about Google’s practices why it thinks the company’s revised offer can address its antitrust concerns. They then have a chance to set out their positions before the Commission decides whether to make Google’s commitments binding on the company.

But the European Publishers Council (EPC), whose members include Impresa, Telegraph Media Group, Reed Elsevier and DMGT (the largest shareholder in the company that owns Managing IP), has already said it is unhappy with the deal, arguing that Google’s first set of proposals failed to meet its concerns.

Its executive director, Angela Mills Wade, described the Commission’s decision yesterday as “fundamentally defective”.

Chairman Francisco Pinto Balsemão said: “The Commission is side-stepping our concerns about the way an abusive monopolist is dictating licensing terms. A take it or leave it opt-out rather than the means to agree terms of access to our content is the ultimate predatory practice.”

The EPC, together with the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the European Magazine Media Association, has told the Commission that it wants Google to pledge not to use their content beyond what is indispensable for navigation purposes in the horizontal search without prior consent; no direct or indirect punishment of websites that restrict the use of their content; and no preferential treatment of news aggregators towards online press portals.

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