PARIS—France’s Competition Authority fined Google $593 million for allegedly violating orders to negotiate paid deals with news publishers, raising pressure on the company in a global fight over how and whether tech companies should pay for news.
The French regulator said that Google had violated its April 2020 orders that the
company must negotiate with publishers for the right to show snippets of their content in its search results. Those orders came after complaints from publishers that Google was sidestepping France’s implementation of a new European Union copyright directive.
Google has since reached paid deals with some French news publishers, such as Le Monde and Le Figaro, but not with others such as Agence France-Presse.
Isabelle de Silva,
head of the competition authority, said the fine—among the larger fines from the French regulator in recent years—takes into account the “exceptional seriousness” of the alleged violations.
“When the Authority imposes orders on companies, they are required to apply them scrupulously, respecting their letter and spirit. In this instance, unfortunately, that was not the case,” Ms. de Silva said.
“We are very disappointed with this decision,” a Google spokeswoman said. “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.”
But the company also said it wants “to turn the page with a definitive agreement. We will take the French Competition Authority’s feedback into consideration and adapt our offers.”
The French decision is the latest flare-up in a global battle that has simmered and sometimes boiled for more than a decade, with disagreements over what, if anything, publishers should be paid when their news is available via tech platforms.
Publishers argue that news is a big attraction for Google and other tech companies, and that they therefore deserve a share of the companies’ revenue. The tech companies long responded that they already send publishers tens of billions of website visits monthly, and that free linking is the internet’s lifeblood. But now with more laws like the European Union’s 2019 copyright directive being passed, they are increasingly striking paid deals, too.
In February, Australia passed a law that has similar elements to the EU directive—leading
to remove news from its platform in the country for five days before reversing course after winning some concessions.
Google initially opposed the Australian law. But it later struck a number of content deals with publishers, including a February deal with
which owns The Wall Street Journal.
In its decision on Tuesday, the French authority focused on a handful of specific alleged Google violations of its 2020 orders, including pushing publishers to sign deals for a new product called News Showcase, without distinct payments for news in general search results. The regulator also accused Google of not allowing news agencies, such as AFP, to seek payment for its articles that appeared on other outlets’ websites that come up in Google search results. And it said that Google didn’t provide sufficient information to publishers to evaluate what revenue they should receive.
The authority said that French publishers can now ask Google for new deals that comply with the French law, and threatened fines of $356,000 a day for each deal that isn’t completed within two months of the publisher’s formal request.
Google said Tuesday that the French the decision relates mostly to the period before September 2020, and that since then it has struck deals with several French publishers and is in talks with others. Google also said it is “about to finalize” a global agreement with AFP that includes remuneration.
A spokeswoman for AFP didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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