France hits Google with €500m fine over copyright row with publishers

13 Jul 2021

Image: © Ascannio/Stock.adobe.com

This comes at a time when tech companies such as Google and Facebook face international criticism for not sharing revenue with news organisations despite using their content.

France’s competition authority has hit search giant Google with a €500m fine for failing to comply with orders to engage with news publishers in the country on compensation for using their news content.

News agency AFP and press publishers APIG and SEPM had filed a complaint against Google in 2019 for refusing to pay news outlets for displaying their content in its search results.

The EU’s neighbouring rights directive, introduced in French law in 2019, requires tech companies such as Google and Facebook to share revenue with news publishers for using their content online.

In April 2020, Google was ordered to enter into good faith negotiations with the French publishers following the complaint.

However, AFP, APIG and SEPM accused Google of failing to hold meaningful talks with them to find common ground on remuneration. The three press bodies took the issue to the competition authority in September 2020 and the €500m fine was announced today (13 July).

“We have acted in good faith throughout the entire process. The fine ignores our efforts to reach an agreement, and the reality of how news works on our platforms,” a Google spokesperson told Reuters.

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Google said it wants to “turn the page with a definitive agreement” and that it will take the authority’s feedback into consideration to adapt its offers.

Isabelle de Silva, president of the competition authority, said that the penalty considers the “exceptional seriousness of the breaches found” and the delay caused by Google in applying the law on neighbouring rights.

The law on neighbouring rights was intended to take better account of the value of the content of publishers and press agencies that is included on the platforms, she said.

“When the authority decrees an obligation for a company, it must comply scrupulously, both in the spirit and letter. Here, this was unfortunately not the case,” she added.

APIG, which represents major French news outlets including Le Figaro and Le Monde, signed a framework agreement with Google earlier this year, according to Reuters. It is understood that the agreement is now on hold pending the antitrust decision.

Documents seen by Reuters show that Google agreed to pay $76m to 121 French news publishers over three years to end the copyright row.

Google could face additional fines of up to €900,000 per day if it does not make proposals within the next two months on how it will compensate French news companies for their content.

Vish Gain is a journalist and copywriter with Silicon Republic

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