France fines Google 500 million for copyright infringements

The competition authority ordered the US giant to make an offer of remuneration to publishers and press agencies for the use of their content
AFP/TOBIAS SCHWARZ  -   Logotipo de la empresa estadounidense de búsqueda en internet Google

AFP/TOBIAS SCHWARZ  -   Logo of the US internet search company Google

This is the third reversal that Google has received in France in recent months in the form of a fine of millions of euros. On 6 June, the Competition Authority fined Google €220 million for abuse of its dominant position in the online advertising market. This penalty was the result of a negotiation with Google, which accepted the charges and made a series of commitments in its advertising policy.

Now, the French competition authority has imposed a fine of more than €500 million on the American internet giant for abusing its dominant position and harming its competitors in the online advertising market by failing to negotiate in good faith compensation for the media for the use of its news content, as required by a national law.

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This 2019 law obliged internet platforms to negotiate in good faith with media outlets for compensation for the use of their news content in their search engines, protected by so-called neighbouring rights. However, the Competition Authority found after an in-depth investigation that Google "has not respected several legal requirements formulated in April 2020", according to Afp. 

The dispute between Google and French press publishers is over the royalties that the US company must pay for content (excerpts of articles, photos, videos, infographics) that appear on search results pages when the internet user performs a search.

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Google was initially reluctant to these "copyright-related rights" and tried to force publishers to give it the right to use their content free of charge. The search engine felt that publishers already charged enough for the traffic it generated to their websites. Faced with Google's refusal to negotiate remuneration, press publishers and news agencies, such as Agence France-Presse (AFP), appealed to the Competition Authority at the end of 2019 for "abuse of dominant position".

The agency also ordered Google to make an offer of remuneration to publishers and press agencies for the use of its protected content, under threat of having to pay 900,000 euros for each day of delay. "This is the highest fine" imposed by the French competition authority for not respecting one of its decisions, said competition authority chairwoman Isabelle De Silva.

According to De Silva, her agency has been very active in responding to the technological challenges and in deciphering the tools that make it possible to establish a de facto dominant position. To do so, they recruited specialised engineers. This allowed them to discuss "as equals" with Google, forcing them to accept the fine and a change of attitude.

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Moreover, the Silicon Valley giant's negotiation with publishers and news agencies "cannot be considered to have been conducted in good faith", according to Efe, as Google imposed on them to be part of a programme called Publisher Curated News, with a specific service called Showcase. In doing so, it adds, Google "refused, as requested on several occasions, to have a specific discussion on the remuneration due for the current use of content protected by related rights".

Last December, France's Commission Nationale de l'Informatique et des Libertés (CNIL) fined Google another €100 million and Amazon €35 million for its policies on cookies, which are placed on users' computers for advertising purposes.

The French authorities are very pleased that this is another victory for their philosophy of dealing with globalisation. This has been a huge news story in France, an economic and political triumph of the first magnitude.