Google fined $593 million by French authorities over news copyright

Google has been fined 500 million euros ($593 million) by French competition regulators after the company failed to comply with an order for fair negotiations with news publishers over the use of their content.

According to France’s Autorite de la concurrence, Google breached a ruling in April 2020 which demanded that the company negotiated “in good faith” licensing deals with news publishers and agencies for the re-use of their copyrighted content. The agency said it also discovered that Google “unjustifiably” limited the scope of income generated from the display of protected news content. Autorite said Google told publishers that only advertising revenue from its search pages posting news content would be taken into account to determine the level of remuneration due.

The search engine giant agreed to a major digital copyright deal earlier in January. The company said it would negotiate individual licenses with members of Frances’s press alliance as part of the deal. The deal would cover related rights and access to a new service, News Showcase. However, France’s competition authority says the discussion did not include remuneration for current uses of content covered by “neighboring rights” for the press. It added that Google deliberately restricted the scope of discussion with the media by not including the use of press images.

“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 spokesman told CNBC.

“To date, Google is the only company to have announced agreements on neighboring rights. We are also about to finalize an agreement with AFP that includes a global licensing agreement, as well as the remuneration of their neighboring rights for their press publications,” the spokesperson said.

In a finding, Autorite said Google only provided news publishers and agencies with “partial” and “insufficient” information during a transparency assessment for remuneration due. It also accused Google of delaying to provide all required information until the injunction deadline. 

The fine on Google is the largest ever to be imposed on a company for failure to adhere to France’s competition watchdog’s rulings, according to France 24. More fines of up to €900,000 per day could be charged to Google if it continues to violate the watchdog’s injunctions and fails to negotiate with publishers within two months.

The Google fine represents the ongoing battle between tech giants like Google, Yahoo and Facebook, and news agencies. France isn’t the only country to attack Google over compensation for news publishers and agencies. Last year, Australia ordered Google and Facebook to pay news outlets for the right to feature their stories. Facebook initially refused the order, and restricted Australians from viewing or sharing news content, until it agreed with the Australian government.

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