French regulator fines Google $592m over copyright row

The Alphabet-owned company is asked to come up with fresh proposals on how it would compensate French media houses for the use of their content

Google was fined €500 million ($592.2m) by French authorities after the company failed to comply with last year’s orders on how to conduct “fair” talks with the country's news publishers and agencies before using their content on its platform.

The fine is the second-biggest anti-trust penalty in France for a single company, according to Bloomberg.

At the end of an in-depth investigation, the authority found that Google had not complied with several injunctions issued in April 2020
Isabelle de Silva, president of Autorité de la Concurrence

The search engine company's negotiations with publishers and press agencies cannot be regarded as “having been conducted in good faith”, while it “imposed that the discussions necessarily take place within the framework of a new partnership”, said Autorité de la Concurrence, France's national competition regulator.

“At the end of an in-depth investigation, the authority found that Google had not complied with several injunctions issued in April 2020,” said Isabelle de Silva, president of Autorité de la Concurrence.

“Google refused, as it has been asked several times, to have a specific discussion on the remuneration due for current uses of content protected by neighbouring rights ... [it] restricted the scope of negotiation without justification.”

The decision took into account the “exceptional seriousness” of the breaches as Google delayed “the proper application of the law on neighbouring rights”, the authority said.

Neighbouring rights aim to ensure that French media outlets receive the correct compensation when their content is reused online by technology and internet companies. France was the first EU member state to apply this regulation after it adopted it into the national law in July 2019.

In April last year, France’s competition authority instructed Google to engage in talks with the country’s publishers to find an agreement under the neighbouring rights law.

“When the authority imposes injunctions on companies, they are required to apply them scrupulously, respecting their letter and their spirit. In the present case, this was unfortunately not the case,” Ms de Silva said.

“The authority will be extremely vigilant about the correct application of its decision, as non-execution can now lead to periodic penalty payments.”

Google has now been asked to come up with new proposals within the next two months on how it would pay French media houses for the use of their content. Failure will lead to additional fines of up to €900,000 per day.

Google said it was “very disappointed” with 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 Alphabet-owned company said.

“This decision is mainly about negotiations that took place between May and September 2020. Since then, we have continued to work with publishers and news agencies to find common ground.”

The company has previously faced trouble in France over various issues.

Last month, it agreed to pay €220m to French authorities and said it will change the way its online advertising works.

In February, it was fined $1.3m by French authorities for misleading consumers with its ratings of hotels and tourist destinations.

In September 2019, Google agreed to pay €945m to French tax authorities to settle a long-running tax dispute.

In March 2019, it was also fined €1.5 billion by the EU for practices deemed to be anti-competitive. This followed previous anti-trust disputes in 2017 and 2018 that led to the company being slapped with total fines of €6.8bn.

Updated: July 13th 2021, 4:45 PM