By Mark McSherry
France’s competition regulator the Autorité de la concurrence has fined Google €500 million for failing to negotiate in good faith with French publishers in a dispute over payments for news.
The regulator has also threatened fines of another €900,000 per day if Google fails to come up with proposals within two months on how it will compensate publishers and news agencies for their content.
“We hoped that the negotiation would be fruitful and that the actors would play the game,” said the authority’s president, Isabelle de Silva.
“Google still does not seem to accept the law as it was voted, but it is not up to an actor, even a dominant one, to rewrite the law.”
Google France said in a statement it was “very disappointed” by the decision, and that the fine “doesn’t reflect the efforts put in place or the reality of the use of news content on our platform.”
Google said it is negotiating in good faith toward a solution.
The dispute is part of a wider effort by regulators around the world to force Google and other tech companies to compensate publishers for content.
The Autorité de la concurrence had issued temporary orders to Google in April 2020 to hold talks within three months with news publishers, and fined the company on Tuesday for breaching those orders.
In a statement de Silva said: “When the Autorité imposes injunctions on companies, they are required to apply them scrupulously, respecting their letter and their spirit.
“In this case, unfortunately, that was not the case.
“At the end of an in-depth investigation, the Autorité found that Google had not complied with several injunctions issued in April 2020.
“First of all, Google’s negotiations with press publishers and agencies cannot be regarded as having been conducted in good faith, while Google imposed that the discussions necessarily take place within the framework of a new partnership, called Publisher Curated News, which included a new service called Showcase.
“In doing so, Google refused, as it has been asked on several occasions, to have a specific discussion on the remuneration due for current uses of content protected by related rights.
“In addition, Google unjustifiably restricted the scope of the negotiation, by refusing to include content from press agencies included in publications (pictures for example) and by excluding all the non-IPG press from the discussion, even though it is undoubtedly affected by the new law, and its content is also associated with significant revenues for Google.
“These breaches were aggravated by the non-transmission of information that would have allowed fair negotiation, and by the violation of obligations aimed at ensuring the neutrality of the negotiation vis-à-vis the display of protected content and existing economic relations elsewhere between Google and publishers and news agencies.
“The fine of 500 million euros takes into account the exceptional seriousness of the infringements observed and how Google’s behaviour has led to further delay the proper implementation of the law on related rights, which aimed to better take into account the value of content from press publishers and agencies included on the platforms.
“The Autorité will be extremely vigilant on the proper application of its decision, as non-execution can now lead to periodic penalty payment.”
The regulator’s statement read: “In a decision issued today, the Autorité fines Google up to 500 million euros for having disregarded several injunctions issued in the context of its interim measures’ decision of April 2020 (decision 20-MC-01 of 9 April 2020 regarding requests for interim measures presented by Syndicat des éditeurs de la presse magazine, Alliance de la presse d’information générale e.a. and Agence France-Presse).
“The Autorité also orders Google to present a remuneration offer for the current use of their protected content to press publishers and agencies that have referred the case to the Autorité and to provide them with the necessary information for evaluating such offer, under periodic penalty payment of up to 900,000 euros per day of delay, if Google has not done so within two months.”