France hasof half a billion euros after finding major breaches in how it negotiated with publishers to reimburse them for reuse of their content — as is required under a pan-EU reform of digital copyright law which extended neighboring rights to news snippets.
The size of the fine is notable as it’s over half of the entire $1BN news licensing potlast October — when it said it would be paying news publishers” “to create and curate high-quality content” to appear on its platforms. At the time, the move was intended to shrink publishers for content reuse by pushing them to accept commercial terms, giving it broad rights to “showcase” their content.
France’s’ watchdog has now called out. The half-a-billion euro penalty is also notable for being considerably more than French publishers, according to Reuters — which reported, back in February, that the tech giant had inked a deal with a group of 121 publishers to pay them just $76M over three years.
France’s competition authority said today that it’s’ applying the sanction of €500 million ($592M) against the techwith several injunctions related to its earlier, April 2020 decision — when the watchdog ordered Google to negotiate in good faith with publishers to reimburse them for displaying their protected content.
Initially, Google sought to evade the neighboring news by stopping displaying snippets of content alongside links it showed in Google News in France. But the watchdog found that was likely to be an abuse of its dominant position — and orderedto pay for the reuse in good faith.
The Autorité de la Concurrence is unhappy with how Google has done this. Several publishers complained that the negotiations were not carried out in good faith and that Google did not provide them with crucial information necessary to inform payments.
The Syndicate of magazine press publishers (SEPM), the Alliance de Presse information Générale (APIG), and Agence France Presse (AFP) made complaints in August/September 2020 — kicking off the investigation by the watchdog and today’s’ announcement of a significant penalty.
Further fines — up to €900,000 per day — could beGoogle’s way if it breaches the watchdog’s injunctions and fails to supply publishers with all the required information within a new two-month deadline.
In a press release detailing its investigation, Autorité said Google sought to unilaterally impose its global news licensing product, aka “Showcase”, under a partnership the tech giant calls Publisher Curated News — in negotiations with publishers — pushing for the neighboring legal right to be incorporated as “an ancillary component with no separate financial valuation”.
According to the watchdog’s investigation, publishers’ requests to break out copyright remuneration negotiations were denied. It also found that Google “unjustifiably” reduced the scope of the talks about the size of income derived from the display of protected news content — with Google telling publishers that only advertising income from Google Search pages posting news content should be considered in determining the level of remuneration due.
The Authority found this exclusion of income from other Google services and all indirect revenue related to this content to breach the copyright law and its earlier compliance order. Google also “deliberately circumscribed” the scope of the law on neighboring rights by excluding titles that do not have a Political and General Information certificate — which the watchdog couched as a “bad faith” interpretation of the code on intellectual property.
It also found the tech giant sought to exclude press agencies from remuneration related to their content when used by third-party publishers — highlighting that as another breach of its April 2020 decision by further noting: “The Frenchto include press agencies.”
In another finding, it said Google had only provided publishers with “partial” and “insufficient” information for a “transparency assessment of remuneration due”; and further accused the tech giant of delaying until just a few days before the injunctionto provide it — so of being “late” too.
The Authority’s investigation highlights compliance problems with another injunction — related to an obligation of neutrality in how— with the watchdog writing on that:
“The strategy put in place byto accept the contractual conditions of the Showcase service and to renounce negotiations relating specifically to the current uses of protected content, which was the subject of the Injunctions, under penalty of seeing their exposure and their remuneration degraded compared to their competitors who would have accepted the proposed terms. Therefore, Google,e cannot t claim to have taken the necessary measures to prevent its negotiations from affecting the presentation of protected content in its services.”
Google from leveraging its dominance by offsetting remunerations paid to publishers for the neighboring rights. The watchdog also took issue with its approach — noting that its Showcase product requires publishers to make not just snippets of their content available for display on Google’s platforms but “large extracts” and even whole articles.
It also found that Google linked participation in the Showcase program to acalled Subscribe with Google (SWG) — enabling it to connect negotiation on neighboring rights with the subscription of new services that could financially benefit its business.
Under a subhead that denounces what it found as “severe practices”, the Authority goes on toof “a deliberate, elaborate and systematic strategy of non-compliance” — and of continuing an already years-long” opposition strategy” to the principle of neighboring rights; and then, after they’d been baked into EU and French law, seeking to” “minimize the concrete scope of those rights as much as possible”.
Google has, the Authority asserts, sought to use a global strategy to close down publishers'” ability to negotiate for remuneration for their content reuse at a national level — using its Showcase product as a cloak for “avoiding or limiting as much as possible” payments to publishers; and, simultaneously, seeking to use negotiations on neighboring rights as an opportunity to obtain access to new content by press publishers that could allow it to collect additional income, such as from subscriptions from pressing titles.
“The sanction of 500 million euros takes into account the exceptional seriousness of the breaches observed and that the behavior of Google has further delayed the proper application of the law on neighboring rights, which aimed to better take into account the value of content from publishers and news agencies included on the platforms. The Authority will be extremely vigilant about the correct application of its decision, as non-execution can now lead to periodic penalty payments,” added the watchdog’s president, Isabelle de Silva, in a statement (which we’ve’ translated from French).
The half-a-billion euro fine and the warning to Google that its practices will attract daily penalties if it persists in ignoring the injunctions put the tech giant on notice that the detail of commercial deals won’t’ be allowed to fly under the radar in France.
Any more attempts to shape a self-serving version of “compliance” are likely to attract further sanction from the watchdog — which also recently applied several interoperability requirements on Google’s ad business (and slapped it with a $268M fine), acting on complaints from publishers.
While anything Google agrees to in France on the neighboring rights issue is likely to set the bar for what it can achieve with commercial deals elsewhere — at least in other EU markets, where the copyright extension also applies (once it’s’ been transposed into a Member State’s national law).
In a statement responding to the Authority’sa’s sanction, Google expressed disappointment with the outcome of the investigation — claiming to have acted in good faith throughout negotiations with publishers:
“We are very disappointed with this decision — we have acted in good faith and ignored the entire process. The fine ignores our efforts to reach an agreement and the. To date, announce an agreement on neighboring rights. We are a global licensing agreement, neighboring remuneration of their neighboring rights for their press publications.”
The tech giant suggested that the Authority’s decision is “primarily” related to negotiations in France between May and September 2020, further claiming it has continued to engage with publishers and press agencies since then to find “solutions”.
By way of example, it pointed to a January 2021 framework agreement inked with the Alliance de la Presse Information Générale — which it claims covers every IPG title (Information de Presse Générale) in a “transparent and non-discriminatory way”. It also pointed to agreements it has inked with other, including Le Monde, Courrier International, L’Obs, Le Figaro, Libération, and L’Express.
Google also reiterated itsa global licensing agreement with Agence France Presse — which it said it also wants to include the remuneration of neighboring rights for press publications from the agency.
“Our objective remains the same: We want to turn the page with a definitive agreement,” it added, saying it would take the French Competition Authority’s “feedback into consideration and adapt our offers” and that: “We are already engaging with press publishers and agerecognizednd IPG, by covering publications that the CPPAP recognizes as “online press services”, and we reiterate our offer to have an independentin a position to evaluate our offers and allow us to base our discussions on facts.”
Other significant fines for Google in France in recentmonth; $120 for dropping tracking cookies without consent back in December; $166M in December 2019 for opaque and inconsistent ad rules; and $57M for privacy violations in January 2019.
Beyond the EU, Australia recently passed a law requiring tech giants,, to enter mandatory arbitration with publishers to reuse their content if they disagree on commercial terms on their own.
Its law has attracted considerable attention worldwide as legislators grapple with how to rein in powerful tech platforms and ensure the sustainability of traditional newsby the Internet-driven shift to digital publishing.
The UK’s’ Competition and Markets Authority has, for example, described Australia’s backstop of mandatory arbitration if commercial negotiations fail as a “sensible” approach — at a time when the government is working on shaping an ex-ante regulation regime to enable competition authorities to tackle abuses by platforms with strategic market power pro-actively.
Ahead of Australia’s law being passed, Google warned that it might have to close its services in the country if legislators went ahead and suggested the quality could degrade or that it may have to start to charge for. In the event, it did not shut up shop down under.
The tech giant was also an active lobbyist against the EU’s plan to extend digital copyright to cover snippets of news content — and, as recently as 2019, it was vowing never to pay for news. A few years later, it announced the $1BN pot to pay publishers to license content. But Google’s eventual bill for its ad business piggybacking upon others” journalism may be somewhat more significant than that.