Denmark’s media industry is pioneering a new bargaining tactic with Google and Facebook over payments for news, with newspapers, broadcasters and internet start-ups joining forces to negotiate with the tech groups as a copyright collective.
Almost 30 Danish media companies will meet on Friday for their first general assembly as a collective bargaining organisation in a move they hope can provide inspiration for other countries in Europe and beyond.
Anders Krab-Johansen, chief executive of newspaper group Berlingske Media and head of an informal network behind the alliance, told the Financial Times the co-operation meant tech giants would not be able to “divide and conquer us as usual”.
He added: “What you see in most countries is that Google or Facebook negotiate particular deals with one or a few dominant media companies and they set the standard and the market has to follow. We would rather have a collective bargaining power, which gives us some size.”
The Danish initiative, based on the EU copyright directive which gives news publishers the right to claim revenues for online use of their material, is the first in Europe to form a broad-based collective to pursue claims with tech companies.
The experiment, which mirrors the approach taken to licensing in the music industry, potentially has much broader significance for the news business as EU member states begin to interpret and apply the copyright directive’s provisions.
Google and Facebook are allocating hundreds of millions of dollars a year to pay for news around the world. But the funding is negotiated with publishers on a one-to-one basis and tied to specific news products so the tech groups can avoid systematic copyright charges for using snippets of content on their platforms.
In France, the first EU country to apply the copyright directive, the news industry negotiated a framework agreement with Google last year but concluded payment terms bilaterally. The approach shrouded the deals in secrecy and divided the media industry. Magazines are seeking to negotiate with Google and Facebook separately as a collective.
The Danish groups joining forces include state broadcaster DR and its main private rival TV2; the main newspaper groups of Berlingske and JP Politikens Hus; many local and specialist titles as well as internet start-up Zetland. The only big Danish media group missing is magazine publisher Egmont — a sign of how hard it is to reconcile the diverging interests of media companies.
Krab-Johansen said the general assembly would appoint a manager to run the platform and only then — because of competition law — would the companies be able to discuss the metrics and how they would split any money they receive from the likes of Google and Facebook. “The first and most important part is that we will gain the rights to our content on the tech giants’ platforms,” he added.
The new group draws inspiration from the Scandinavian preference for collective bargaining but also Denmark’s scepticism of the large technology groups.
Google said it would “respect the way that Danish publishers choose to negotiate”, adding that it had “already offered to start discussions with them, with the goal of reaching fair and reasonable agreements in line with the law”.
Facebook, meanwhile, has sought to minimise its liability by stripping back the content posted when users share hyperlinks. In countries applying the EU copyright law, publishers’ permission is required for anything more than the basic link to appear on the platform.
Krab-Johansen said the “big worry” among Danish media groups was that the tech companies would try to drag out negotiations for years. However, he added: “We’re not in a hurry. We need to do this right.”