Danish media club together to make American tech giants pay for news

Denmark’s media industry is leading a new bargaining tactic with Google and Facebook over payments for news, with newspapers, broadcasters and internet startups teaming up to negotiate with technology groups as a collective copyright group.

Nearly 30 Danish media companies will gather on Friday for their first public meeting as a collective bargaining organization in a move they hope will inspire other countries in Europe and beyond.

Anders Krab-Johansen, chief executive of Berlingske Media press group and head of an informal network behind the alliance, told the Financial Times that the collaboration means the tech giants will not be able to “divide and conquer us as usual”.

He added, “What you see in most countries is that Google or Facebook are negotiating certain deals with one or a few dominant media companies and they are setting standards and the market has to follow. We’d rather have collective bargaining power, which gives us some volume.”

The Danish initiative, based on EU copyright directives that give news publishers the right to claim revenue from the use of their online material, is the first in Europe to form a large-scale group to pursue lawsuits with tech companies.

The experience, which reflects the approach to licensing in the music industry, is potentially of much broader significance for the news sector as EU member states begin to interpret and apply the provisions of the Copyright Directive.

Google and Facebook allocate hundreds of millions of dollars annually to pay for news around the world. But funding is negotiated with publishers on an individual basis and tied to specific news products so tech groups can avoid systematic copyright fees for using snippets of content on their platforms.

In France, the first country in the European Union to implement the copyright directive, the news industry negotiated a framework agreement with Google last year but concluded the payment terms bilaterally. The approach covered deals with secrecy and divided the media industry. The magazines are seeking to negotiate with Google and Facebook separately as a group.

Danish groups that have joined their ranks include state broadcaster DR and its main private competitor, TV2. major press groups Berlingske and JP Politikens Hus; Many local and niche titles as well as the online startup Zetland. The only major Danish media group missing is magazine publisher Egmont – a sign of how difficult it is to reconcile the divergent interests of media companies.

Krab-Johansen said the general assembly will appoint a director to operate the platform and only then – due to competition law – companies will be able to discuss metrics and how any money they receive from the likes of Google and Facebook will be divided. “The first and most important part is that we will acquire the rights to our content on the platforms of the tech giants,” he added.

The new group is inspired by Scandinavia’s preference for collective bargaining as well as Denmark’s suspicion of big tech groups.

Google said it would “respect the manner in which Danish publishers choose to negotiate,” adding that it “has already offered to start discussions with them, with a view to arriving at fair and reasonable agreements in line with the law.”

Meanwhile, Facebook sought to reduce its liability by stripping the content posted when users share hyperlinks. In countries that apply copyright law in the European Union, publishers’ permission is required for anything more than the canonical link to appear on the platform.

Krab-Johansen said the “big concern” among Danish media groups is that tech companies will try to drag out negotiations for years. But he added, “We are not in a hurry. We need to do it right.”

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