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French Antitrust Authority Slams Google with €250 Million Fine for Neighboring Rights Violations

Published March 21, 2024
2 months ago

In a landmark ruling that underscores ongoing tensions between large technology platforms and the news industry, French competition authorities have fined Google €250 million ($272 million) for its failure to comply with the country's neighboring rights laws. The fine emanates from Google's breach of commitments it had agreed to on compensating media companies for the use of their content online and the unauthorized utilization of their material in its AI-driven chatbot solution.

Implemented back in 2019, the European Union established "neighboring rights," a form of copyright that empowers print media outlets to seek remuneration for the digital use of their content. France has been a pioneer in putting these rules into practice, with Google and Facebook eventually conceding to pay certain French media for showcasing articles in web searches—yet not without considerable contention and legal challenges.

The case brought against Google by French magazines, newspapers, and Agence France-Presse (AFP) in 2019 culminated in the French Competition Authority issuing a hefty 500 million euro penalty to the technology behemoth in 2021 for not engaging in good-faith negotiations. Despite 2022 commitments from Google to amend its negotiating process with news organizations, the authority disclosed that Google had failed to make a transparent payment offer within the agreed timeframe after a copyright complaint.

Moreover, the regulator called attention to Google's use of content from press agencies in training its AI chatbot, dubbed Bard and now referred to as Gemini, without appropriate notification or the provision of a technical solution for publishers to contest the use of their content. This conduct by Google not only breached the agreements but also impaired the bargaining power of publishers to seek fair remuneration.

In response to the authority's findings, Google has chosen not to contend the established facts and has proposed a series of corrective actions. These proposed measures have yet to be detailed publicly, but they indicate a willingness on Google's part to steer towards compliance.

The scenario in France forms part of a wider European challenge to Google's practices. Similar concerns have been raised by competition watchdogs in Spain, which last year probed Google for potential anti-competitive behavior, and in Germany, where an antitrust investigation into Google's News Showcase was suspended following Google's adjustments to address competition anxieties.

The enforcement of neighboring rights within the EU is seen as a test case that can have significant repercussions for digital platforms and their relationships with media publishers worldwide. Google's compliance with these regulations is critical not only to its operations in Europe but also to the broader context of how content creators are recognized and compensated in the digital economy.

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