Google and French newspapers said Thursday they had signed an agreement aimed at opening the way to digital copyright payments from the online giant after months of heated negotiations.

The accord signed with the APIG alliance of French dailies involves "neighbouring rights," which call for payment for showing news content with internet searches, a joint statement said.

It said the agreement sets a framework for Google to negotiate individual licence agreements with newspapers on the payments and will give papers access to its new News Showcase programme, which sees it pay publishers for a selection of enriched content.

Payments are to be calculated individually and will be based on criteria including internet viewing figures and the amount of information published.

Google said the deal opens up 'new perspectives'
Google said the deal opens up 'new perspectives' AFP / DENIS CHARLET

The deal covers papers that carry "political and general news", the statement said.

APIG head Pierre Louette, who is also CEO of the Les Echos of the Le Parisien newspaper group, said the deal amounts to the "effective recognition of neighbouring rights for the press and the start of their remuneration by digital platforms for the use of their publications online".

Google France chief Sebastien Missoffe called the deal proof of a "commitment" that opens up "new perspectives."

The statement included no information about the monetary value involved, and both APIG and Google declined to give financial details when contacted by AFP.

News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions have long seethed at Google's failure to give them a cut of the millions it makes from ads displayed alongside news search results.

Newspaper circulation has been dwindling for years
Newspaper circulation has been dwindling for years AFP / MARTIN BUREAU

The Covid-19 crisis has hurt sales even further.

A Paris appeals court ruled in October that the US giant had to continue to negotiate with French news publishers over a new European law on neighbouring rights.

France was the first country in the EU to enact the law but Google initially refused to comply, saying media groups already benefited by receiving millions of visits to their websites.

Google also said at the time it had decided to lower the search engine visibility of papers that refused to make headlines, article extracts and thumbnails available in Google searches without remuneration.

In November, Google said it had reached individual agreements with a number of flagship publications, such as Le Monde, Le Figaro, Liberation and L'Express.

But other newspapers remained without an accord -- as did news agencies including Agence France-Presse (AFP) -- and negotiations continued.

"I am delighted that the recognition of neighbouring rights is becoming a reality for the first time in Europe and now that the first step -- always the most difficult one -- has been taken, we expect Google to keep up its momentum and extend this recognition to other eligible players, including news agencies," said AFP Chief Executive Fabrice Fries.

Talks between Google and the print magazine association SEPM, meanwhile, have stalled so far.