The French competition authority has slapped a record €500 million fine on Google for not having negotiated “in good faith” with news publishers and agencies on neighbouring rights – the remuneration for the reuse of copyrighted content they are entitled to.
“When the Authority imposes injunctions on companies, they are required to apply them scrupulously”, the president of the Autorité de la Concurrence (AdlC), Isabelle de Silva, declared upon releasing the much-expected decision on Tuesday (July 13).
“In this case, this was unfortunately not the case”, she added.
#Droitsvoisins l’Autorité inflige à @Google 1 sanction de 500M€ pour non respect de plusieurs injonctions prononcées à son encontre en avril 2020. Google devra se conformer aux injonctions prévues, sous peine d’astreintes pouvant atteindre 900 000€/jour https://t.co/UlUPMJJHsb pic.twitter.com/AFAK0HT0jP
— Autorité de la Concurrence (@Adlc_) July 13, 2021
Back in 2020, the AdlC had urged Google to undertake negotiations “in good faith” with news publishers in order to strike licencing deals that would make them comply with both the French legislation and the European framework.
In July 2019, France was the first to transpose the EU Copyright directive that introduced neighbouring rights for agencies and press publishers, who could then claim compensation for the reuse of their content by online platforms like Google and Facebook.
Based on this, a collective framework for negotiating remuneration was agreed on by Google and parts of the press sector in January of this year, but the individual deals continue to be made bilaterally between the tech giant and publishers.
In June, the union of French magazine publishers announced plans to create a new collective management organisation to oversee the protection of these rights for those not covered by the deal.
In spite of this initial agreement, de Silva said Google had failed to comply with the 2020 ruling since it “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 to have a specific discussion on the remuneration due for the current uses of content protected by neighbouring rights, as it had been asked to do on several occasions,” she added.
On top of that, the authority reproached Google for excluding magazines and the content of news agencies taken over by publications, such as their images, from the discussion, “even though it is unquestionably concerned by the new law, and its content is moreover associated with significant revenues for Google”.
Socialist Paris senator David Assouline said that “if you recognise the neighbouring right, recognise it until the end”, urging the managing director of Google France, Sébastien Missoffe, who was auditioned last month, to “put some goodwill into it”.
“Google’s behaviour is a deliberate, elaborate and systematic strategy”, according to the AldC, which added a fine of up to 900 000 euros per day of delay if Google were not to comply within two months – on top of the €500 million penalty.
Ilias Konteas, Executive Director of both the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the European Magazine Media Association, described the ruling as a “massive blow” for the tech giant and said it demonstrated that “Google’s strategy to offer a new service (Showcase) is not adequate and sufficient to comply with the publishers’ right.”
“It also highlights the need at EU level for an appropriate regulatory binding mechanism in the Digital Markets Act to allow publishers to have negotiations with tech giants in good faith”, he added.
A Google spokesperson said that while the company is “committed to complying with the Copyright Directive and the FCA’s orders, this fine ignores the significant efforts we have made to reach agreements and the reality of how news works on our platforms: Google last year generated less than €5 million in revenue-not-profit from clicks on ads against possible news-related queries in France.”
“We want to find a solution and reach definitive agreements but this fine is out of all proportion to the amount of money we make from news and we will be reviewing the decision in detail”, the spokesperson added.
[Edited by Luca Bertuzzi/Zoran Radosavljevic]