Google is threatening to exclude French media sites from its search results if Paris goes ahead with the plan for such sites to receive a commission fee each time they are referenced.
It is the latest in a series of confrontations between the US company and European governments. This year German politicians examined draft legislation for a similar scheme of commission fees for newspapers sites. Editors claim the search engine is benefiting from advertising opportunities that are being lost to their sites.
Last month a group of leading French newspaper publishers called on the government to adopt a law that would force search engines to pay copyright fees for links in their results. For example, if a Google search about the French president, François Hollande, returned a list of articles by the newspapers Le Figaro or Les Echos, Google would have to pay a commission fee for displaying those links.
Google executives met government representatives in Paris on Friday. In a letter to ministers obtained by Agence France Presse, Google said such a law would "threaten its very existence", and it would be forced to stop referencing any French media at all.
The letter, later published on Google's Europe blog, said the search engine redirected 4bn clicks a month to French media sites. It said making search engines pay for directing people to news websites was like "asking a taxi driver to pay for taking a customer to a restaurant". It said the proposed law would limit people's access to information.
Aurelie Filippetti, the French culture minister, who is in favour of measures to help the struggling French media, questioned the tone of Google's letter. "You don't deal with a democratically elected government with threats," she told Agence France Presse.
In an editorial, Laurent Joffrin, editor of the news weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, accused Google of "straightforward blackmail" of the government and likened the company to a modern-day feudal lord.
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