France fines Google £425million over use of media companies' content

France fines Google £425million for failing to negotiate ‘in good faith’ with media companies over the use of their content

  • The legal battle focuses on claims Google shows content without compensation
  • It is the biggest ever fine imposed by Competition Authority for a ruling breach
  • Google said it is ‘very disappointed’ in the decision and could face further fines

France has fined Google £425million 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 said.

The long-running legal row focuses on claims Google has been showing articles, pictures and videos produced by media groups when displaying search results without adequate compensation.

The move comes amid a wider battle to force Google and online platforms to pay for news content following the seismic shift of advertising revenue online.

France has fined Google £425million for failing to negotiate ‘in good faith’ with media companies over the use of their content under EU copyright rules

In a ruling published on its website, the Competition Authority also ordered the US internet giant 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 £750,000 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.’

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

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

A Google spokesperson said in a statement to AFP that the company was ‘very disappointed’ by the decision

But last September, 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.

In particular, the Competition Authority rebuked Google for having failed to ‘have a specific discussion’ with media companies about neighbouring rights while negotiating over the launch of its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

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.

The search giant counters that it encourages millions of people to click through to media sites, and it has also invested heavily in supporting media groups in other ways, including emergency funding during the Covid-19 crisis.

Google 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.

It comes as Google and other tech giants faces mounting pressure to pay news providers for their content amid the online shift.

In February, Australia and Facebook were engaged in a bitter row which saw the social media company block all news content to Australian users after the government tried to introduce a new law forcing it to pay for content.

A deal was eventually struck forcing Facebook and Google to demonstrate they have signed agreements with media companies to pay for news.

Some hoped the move would signal a sea change in how online platforms work with publishers.

But in May, Labour peer Lord Dubs stressed during a debate in the House of Lords that social media giants are ‘paying nothing for news content’.

Lord Dubs (pictured) advocated for online platforms to ‘pay news providers for the news’

He added that Google and Facebook took 80 per cent of the £14billion spent on digital advertising in 2019, but national and local newspapers took just 4 per cent.

The 88-year-old said ‘the Australian Government have shown the way to do it; we should do likewise’, following legislation there to make tech firms pay for using news.

Meanwhile Lord Black of Brentwood said that the pandemic has taught people of the need for ‘reliable, verifiable’ news from trusted sources, but warned that the threats against this are becoming ‘existential’ as revenues evaporate.

He noted that more than 260 local newspapers have disappeared since 2005, and that in the last year, there have been more than 2,000 job cuts in media in the UK.

Lord Black added that ‘the situation is grave, particularly for the local and regional press, which are now in real peril.’

Earlier this year, Google agreed a licensing deal with more than 120 UK publications in a first deal of its kind in the UK.

Google News Showcase means publishers will be paid for excerpts of news articles that appear in search results, and users can then be directed to the full story on the publisher’s website. 

It was the first time Google started to pay for news content in the UK and is part of the tech giant’s pledge to invest £750million in news worldwide.

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