Tags: Communication Convergence, Competition Online, Copyright Law, France, Future of Media, Germany, Google News, ICT Standards, Information Society, Internet Law, Media Convergence, Media Production, Media Services, New York Times, Online Monopolies, Online Regulation, Policy, Policy Revision, Publishers, Regulation Industries, Regulatory Convergence, Regulatory Models, Self Regulation
French and German newspaper publishers made headlines last week for targeting Google’s news search feature as harmful to their industry. The debatable idea that previewing news through google may be damaging revenues for newspapers is far from new – a long list of legal disputes and competition wars in the United States and elsewhere – most won by Google – suggests that making a case against the internet giant will be tough for europeans. With all evidence against them, one wonders what it is that publishers are really after.
A New York Times article predicts – among many – that the efforts of the two countries’ publishers on pushing their willing governments to negotiate with Google is pointless and vain. The writer is right on assuming that such unlikeness stems from Google’s firm no issue attitude, she does not however touch on the reasoning behind such confidence. It would’t be risky to assume that it departs from Google’s better understanding on the background of EU policies and the gaps they feature concerning media production. Publishers either don’t have an equally thorough perspective or they are hoping things won’t get any worse for them, if the frame could change.
Throughout its digital agenda-setting history (from the late 1980s until the end of 1990s) EU has been indecisive as to what kind and what level of regulation should they apply for the internet and the so called Information Society. The constant updates and changes of direction in policy have raised concerns regarding Europe’s ability to correctly address and decide on two major issues: firstly, the challenge of becoming globally competitive in the field of Information and Communication Technology standards. The Commission was aware of the fact that standards in this field are not only a technical issue because they determine which way industries will benefit from them. Unable to compete with the United States, the weapons were surrendered as early as the mid 1990s with Europe deciding to not interfere on standardization at all, choosing to regulate internal market issues only.
Secondly, the global convergence between communication sectors (telecom, IT and media products and services) raised the question on whether relevant policies should be equally converging themselves. The Green paper on the Convergence of Communication published in 1997 gave three choices for legislators: a strong, a gradual and a weak one. The strong was suggesting a new regulatory model, covering the entire range of existing and new services. The gradual solution envisioned a separation and co-existence between regulation for new and old activities. The weak concept was about building on the existing structures. Council and Commission decided to follow the weak scenario and keep all hard questions of media regulation aside, while insisting on private-driven self regulation for the internet. Decisions were based on the notion that the internet is a market and gains will be high only if it can run as freely as possible.
This resulted in an awkward double standard: the creation of an irresponsive regulation, reflecting on dated industry needs and an environment that is standardized from private companies of a different regulation frame – somewhere far abroad. It is clear that today’s blurry media landscape in Europe is the result of yesterday’s unwillingness to set a clearer converging policy and at the same time build the foundations for competition ability on ICT standards. Within this frame, Google is not breaking any rule, on the contrary, it confirms their validity in the best possible way by demonstrating that the market can indeed run wild without europe having to break any nails.
I would hate to believe that this background frame of today’s media reality has not been thoroughly investigated by publishers, but knowing their somewhat bureaucratic and slow market behavior I wouldn’t be surprised either. If this is accurate, their hopes for a battle over profit sharing with google through the pushing of their governments is equally utopian with the idea that they could really win on a competition with the company that is regulating the market environment. Someone must be very misleading here – this won’t be the first time a president of a European country is offering hope to an industry by hiding behind complex and unsupportive policy (a “Yes, I can offer to help because it will never happen” approach). If it is too late for Europe to revise policy (or better, clarify policy), saving time through empty promises might be the only option governments have in order to avoid announcing to their media industries the very gloomy news about their future.
But let’s be optimistic and say that it is not too late: Let’s assume this is a belated cry for regulatory convergence of some very self-aware publishers. In this case, they must be hoping that EU will build regulation similar to that for the entertainment industry (or hoping the same one could include their sector) – playing, of course, the copyright card. Governments did protect music and film sectors but only because they fell more clearly under the category of consumer products, therefore contributors to the online business growth they have envisioned for the internet’s role.
Newspapers do indeed behave like companies (and I know a few non-sentimental reasons why they shouldn’t), but their product is too fragile and liquid to simply be considered a commodity, especially when the United States show no intention on supporting their own industry in the same manner (remember: ACTA was more of an alignment with US policy than a self-standing European one). Europe’s growth strategy agenda does not indicate a change of mind anytime soon on seeing the internet as something socially broader than a business enabling environment. It is also unlikely that news information online will ever have a larger commercial drive than that of google.
Tomatos and potatos, all in the same basket. If only journalism has stayed away from the stock market…