Google fines 500 million Euros in France over news copyright row

Google has been fined 500 million Euros (Rs 3700 crore) by France’s competition regulator after it found the company guilty of not negotiating with media companies to use their content under European Union copyright rules.

Competition authority chief Isabelle De Silva informed media persons that it was the biggest-ever fine imposed by the authority on a company for not adhering to one of its rulings.

The judgment states that in addition to the fine, the authority was also directing the US tech company to give media publishers ‘an offer of remuneration for the current use of their copyrighted content’ and if this is not done, they might have to pay additional damages of up to 900,000 Euros per day.

Google’s spokesperson said the company was very disappointed by the decision and said that it had 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 Google spokesperson said, adding that the 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 spokesperson said.

The legal conflict between the authority and Google was based on claims that the company has been displaying articles, pictures and videos produced by media groups during search results without compensating those media groups.

In April 2020, the authority had instructed Google to negotiate with the media groups ‘in good faith’ after the company did not comply with a new EU digital copyright law.

In the law, ‘neighbouring rights’ seek to ensure that news publishers and media publishers are compensated fairly when their work is displayed on websites, search engine results or social media platforms.

In September 2020, many new publishers like Agence France-Presse filed a complaint against the company and claimed that Google refused to pay to display content in web searches.

The authority also admonished the company over its new feature Google Showcase News Service, and said that the company did not discuss the feature with the news or media publishers.

News and media publishers, especially independent outlets, have been financially struggling, and their print subscriptions have not been enough to sustain them due to lesser people subscribing and have expressed their displeasure at Google’s refusal to give them a portion of the revenue it earns from ads displayed on their websites and on search results.

As a counterargument, Google said that it encourages millions of people to click through to the media and news sites and that it has supported media groups in many other ways, like providing funding during the pandemic.

In November, the company announced that it had signed some individual agreements on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines like Le Monde and Le Figaro.