Google hit with record $593 million fine in France in news copyright battle

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Google was fined 500 million euros ($593 million) Tuesday by French competition regulators for failing to comply with an order to negotiate fair deals with news publishers for the use of their content.

France’s Competition Authority said Google had breached an April 2020 ruling that ordered the company to negotiate “in good faith” licensing deals with publishers and news agencies for any reuse of copyrighted content.

In January, Google agreed to a major digital copyright deal with French publishers. As part of that deal, the company said it would negotiate individual licenses with members of France’s press alliance covering related rights and access to a new service called News Showcase.

France’s competition agency took issue with this, saying it did not include a discussion on remuneration for current uses of content covered by “neighboring rights” for the press. The regulator added that Google restricted the scope of talks with the media by refusing to include the use of press images.

It is the largest-ever fine imposed by France’s competition watchdog for a company’s failure to adhere to one of its rulings, according to French news agency AFP.

Google was ordered by the regulator to present an offer of remuneration for the use of protected content to publishers within two months or risk facing fines of up to 900,000 euros per day.

Google said it was “very disappointed” by Tuesday’s decision.

“We have acted in good faith throughout the entire process,” a Google spokesperson told CNBC. “The fine ignores our efforts to reach an agreement, and the reality of how news works on our platforms.”

“To date, Google is the only company to have announced agreements on neighbouring rights,” the spokesperson added. “We are also about to finalize an agreement with AFP that includes a global licensing agreement, as well as the remuneration of their neighbouring rights for their press publications.”

The record fine is the latest development in an ongoing copyright battle between tech giants like Google and Facebook and news publishers.

France was the first country to adopt contentious new EU copyright laws aimed at giving news organizations more protections to ensure they’re compensated fairly for the dissemination of snippets of their content online.

France isn’t the only country taking Google to task over compensation for news organizations. Australia last year required Google and Facebook to pay media outlets for the right to feature their stories. Facebook initially refused, at one point restricting Australians from viewing or sharing news content, before later coming to an agreement with the government.