Paris - Google's executive chairman Eric Schmidt met French President Francois Hollande on Monday amid a revenue row with French, German and Italian media firms which want the Internet giant to pay for content.
The pair held talks for about 45 minutes and no statements were made. Earlier in the evening Schmidt met with Communication and Culture Minister Aurelie Filippetti and both sides remained tight-lipped about discussions.
Google, which receives four billion hits worldwide every month, has warned it will exclude French media sites from its search results if France adopts a bill that forces search engines to pay for linking to its news sites.
Italian and German firms have also joined the demand that the search engine should share some of the advertising revenue from user searches for news in media websites.
Filippetti adopted a combative tone ahead of the meeting.
“This European drive will not allow us to be penniless,” she said on France Inter radio. “We must not think that all the fights against Internet giants are a lost cause.”
She said it was “only normal that big search engines contribute to finance the press.”
A letter sent by Google to several French ministerial offices this month said it “cannot accept” such a move and the company “as a consequence would be required to no longer reference French sites,” according to a copy obtained by AFP.
Google said such a law would “threaten (Google's) very existence”.
The internet giant in October posted third quarter net profits of $2.18 billion. Revenues from its own ad and other revenue rose 19 percent from a year ago to $11.53 billion, according to the earnings statement.
Leading French newspaper publishers last month called on the government to adopt legislation imposing a settlement in the long-running dispute with Google, forcing it and other search engines to share some of the advertising revenue.
Their demand follows the German government approving in August draft legislation that would force search engines to pay commissions to German media websites.
But it has not been adopted due to opposition from leftist parties in parliament.
Olivier Esper, a director at Google France, has warned that such a move will “be harmful both for the Internet and its users.”
According to France's Le Figaro newspaper, Hollande appears favourable to forcing the Internet giant to pay for linking to newspapers.
Filippetti told a parliamentary commission last week that she backed the idea, calling it “a tool that seems important to me to develop”.
She said she was surprised by the tone of Google's letter, telling AFP that “you don't deal with a democratically-elected government with threats”.
French technology minister Fleur Pellerin meanwhile told the US niche website Quartz that if Google reached an agreement with Paris, legislation would not be necessary.
“We don't want to appear as a country that is anti-Google,” Pellerin told Quartz.
“Obviously Google is a wonderful tool and Google is a major actor of the digital ecosystem.
“What I would suggest - and what I'm going to suggest to Google and to the press - is to start negotiating, to start discussions for maybe three months, and try to find an agreement on a negotiated basis. And if they don't, well we'll see.” - Sapa-AFP