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France fines Google $593M in media copyright row

France’s competition watchdog on Tuesday slapped Google with a 500-million-euro ($593-million) fine for failing to negotiate “in good faith” with media companies over the use of their content under EU copyright rules.

It is “the biggest ever fine” imposed by the Competition Authority for a company’s failure to adhere to one of its rulings, the agency’s chief Isabelle De Silva told reporters, saying the decision was intended to “reflect the gravity” of Google’s shortcomings.

The regulator also ordered Google to present media publishers with “an offer of remuneration for the current use of their copyrighted content,” or risk paying additional damages of up to 900,000 euros a day.

A Google spokesperson said in a statement to AFP that the company was “very disappointed” by 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 company insisted.

“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 long-running legal battle has centered on claims that Google has been showing articles, pictures and videos produced by media outlets when displaying search results without adequate compensation, despite the seismic shift of global advertising revenues towards the search giant.

In April 2020, the French competition authority ordered Google to negotiate “in good faith” with media groups after it refused to comply with a 2019 EU law governing digital copyright.

The so-called “neighboring rights” aim to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their work is shown on websites, search engines and social media platforms.

But last September, French news publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

While Google insists it has made progress on the issue, the French regulator said the company’s behavior “indicates a deliberate, elaborate and systematic lack of respect” for its order to negotiate in good faith.

In particular, the Competition Authority rebuked Google for having failed to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighboring rights during negotiations over its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

Tuesday’s ruling had been keenly anticipated by news outlets across Europe, as the first decision of its kind by a regulator over the EU’s neighboring rights policy.

News outlets struggling with dwindling print subscriptions have long seethed at Google’s refusal to give them a cut of the millions of euros it makes from ads displayed alongside news search results.

Google initially refused to pay media outlets for the snippets of news stories, photos and videos that appear in the search results, arguing that the traffic these searches send to their websites was payment enough.

The internet giant has since softened its stance, and announced in November that it had signed “some individual agreements” on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines, including top dailies Le Monde and Le Figaro. 

Topics: Isabelle De Silva , Competition Authority , Google , France
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