French watchdog imposes a €250 million fine on Google amid dispute with news publishers

French watchdog imposes a €250 million fine on Google amid dispute with news publishers

France’s competition regulator hit Google on Wednesday with a new €250 million fine tied to a long-running dispute over payments to French publishers for their news.

The regulator said in a statement that it had issued the penalty because the tech giant had failed to meet certain commitments made in June 2022 “aimed at creating the conditions for balanced negotiations between publishers, press agencies and digital platforms”.

The companies involved are parent company Alphabet Inc, Google LLC, Google Ireland Ltd, and Google France.

One of the elements retained by the regulator is the use by Google of the content to train its artificial intelligence (AI) service, Bard which recently became Gemini.

Google failed to offer an “opt-out” option to publishers without affecting the display of content, therefore “obstructing the ability of publishers and press agencies to negotiate remuneration,” the statement added.

Google has agreed to settle the fine.

“We’ve settled because it’s time to move on,” the company said in a blog post.

Nonetheless, it added that the fine was “not proportionate” to the issues and “doesn’t sufficiently take into account” Google's efforts to answer and resolve the concerns.

By not contesting the fine, Google benefits from the “transaction procedure” which “allows companies that do not contest the charges against them to obtain a financial penalty within a certain range”.

EU set ‘neighbouring rights’ in 2019

The dispute is part of a larger effort by authorities in the European Union and around the world to force Google and other tech companies to compensate news publishers for content.

The US tech behemoth was forced to negotiate with French publishers after a court in 2020 upheld an order saying the 2019 European Union copyright directive required payments - also called "neighbouring rights" - which is part of EU copyright law.

France was the first of the EU’s 27 member states to adopt the copyright directive, which sets out how publishers and news companies can strike licensing deals with online platforms.

The French antitrust agency issued temporary orders to Google in April 2020 to hold talks within three months with news publishers.

In 2021, the agency fined Google €500 million for failing to negotiate a fair payment for publishers’ news.

Other countries, like Australia and Canada, were also recently battling with GAFA companies to find a compromise with news publishers over financial compensation.