French News Agency Wants Twitter to Pay Up

Photo by JD Lasica under CC BY 2.0

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Liberté, Égalité, Procès d’entreprise!

French news agency Agence France-Presse brought legal action against Twitter on Wednesday, accusing it of flouting French copyright laws. Specifically, it says Twitter (since renamed X) has refused to enter into talks about compensating AFP for sharing its news on the platform. Twitter owner Elon Musk’s initial reaction was pretty incredulous, tweeting: “This is bizarre. They want us to pay *them* for traffic to their site where they make advertising revenue and we don’t!?” Somewhere Zuckerberg is smiling and mumbling: “First time?”

Into the Fray

France adopted a new EU copyright law into its legislature in 2019 called the “neighboring rights law.” It essentially says French news publishers are owed some remuneration by platforms if their content — i.e. text, videos, photos — are reproduced. The law doesn’t apply to hyperlinks or very short snippets of text, and publishers have to negotiate with the platform rather than being owed a set amount.

Musk’s chafing against forking over Twitter’s cash (which is a very small pile at the moment) mirrors broader legislative fights between platforms and publishers around the world:

  • This week, Meta started blocking news links on its platforms in Canada, in reaction to a law which would force it to obtain licenses with publishers so users can post links to their articles.
  • While Canadian lawmakers argue that publishers benefit little from the value they bring to social media sites and are owed some compensation, Meta has asserted its users really don’t even care that much about news.

A New Player: Having Elon Musk enter the publishers-versus-platforms debate could be seen as a net positive for other tech companies — he’s no stranger to confrontation. However, Musk’s berserker-like outbursts aren’t always long-term indicators. In November, Musk attacked Apple, saying it had “threatened to withhold” Twitter from the App Store and lashed out at Apple’s policy of imposing a 30% tax on in-app purchases.

For a moment, it looked like Musk would join Spotify CEO Daniel Ek and Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney, who have long fought against Apple’s levy. He quickly cooled off, though, and this week he returned to the subject with a much more conciliatory tone, saying he would talk with Apple CEO Tim Cook about tweaking the tax to minimize the sum that gets shaved off creators’ incomings by Apple. Musk, ever the gentleman.