France’s competition regulator,  Autorité de la concurrence, fined the U.S. Google €500 million for not respecting interim measures imposed last year, which required them to negotiate “in good faith” with the press industry over licensing fees. 

It is “the biggest ever fine” imposed by the Competition Authority for a company’s failure to adhere to one of its rulings, the agency’s chief Isabelle De Silva told reporters.

Paying for news

Central to the case was the issue of so-called “neighbouring rights”. The regulator’s goal was to ensure compensation for news publishers when their work appears on websites, search engines, and social media platforms.

Last September, publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

In considering the complaint, Autorité de la concurrence rebuked Google for failing to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighbouring rights while negotiating over the launch of its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

In levying the fine, the regulator ordered Google to present media publishers with “an offer of remuneration for the current use of their copyrighted content” or risk paying additional damages of up to €900,000 a day.

Google spokesperson said in a statement to AFP that the company was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“We have acted in good faith during the entire negotiation period. This fine does not reflect the efforts put in place, nor the reality of the use of news content on our platform,” the company insisted.

Google later claimed that it is about to reach a global licensing agreement with the French news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), but did not provide a timeline.

In mitigation, the tech giant pointed out that it reached an agreement with six French newspapers and magazines over copyright payments at the end of 2020. Signatories to that deal include top national dailies Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation as well as magazines L’Express, L’Obs and Courrier International.

Australian laws led the way

This case follows a precedent set by Australia when the government legislated laws requiring the tech giants to pay publishers for the use of their articles. Australia was the first country to make such laws, and commentators recognised that other countries would undoubtedly follow the same path.

Australia acted when Facebook decided to block all news content for local users. The ban also blocked many government and non-profit pages, including public health agencies that spread reliable information about COVID-19. This brinkmanship forced a settlement offering concessions to the tech giants considering the private commercial agreements that the tech’s concluded with news companies before legally intervening.

Google will be able to appeal Tuesday’s fine but is yet to make a decision.


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