France and Google: the showdown continues.
Several years ago, the French government commissioned a report proposing new ways to accomplish something France has been trying to do for centuries: protect French culture against the many outside forces that stand to threaten it. The requested report would be a new twist on the old idea: It would focus in particular on the cultural menaces posed by the digital world. In January 2010, the report was presented to then-president Nicolas Sarkozy. And one of the most daring ideas it suggested struck at the heart of Internet cultural commerce, Francophilic and otherwise: search engines. And, in particular, Google. The report proposed to tax a small percentage of the revenues that Google and other search engines generate in France. It was an idea that would come to be known as the "Google tax."
The tax has been, unsurprisingly, controversial, but it has been, for that, a long-standing subject of controversy. French newspapers, in particular -- in a continental echo of the anti-Google sentiment so familiar in to us here in the States -- supported the tax proposal, claiming that Google, which serves ads against its returns, has been profiting unfairly from their content. Last month, a group of news outlets called on the government to adopt the idea. And Google, for its part -- as it so often does in the States -- responded with stats, noting that its search returns direct four billion clicks to French media pages each month. Google has also, though, responded in a more direct way, saying that such a wholesale tax "would be harmful to the Internet, Internet users and news websites that benefit from substantial traffic" -- traffic that comes, of course, at least partially from Google.