French Competition Authority Fines Google Nearly $600 Million For Failing To Negotiate A Nonsensical Deal With Publishers 'In Good Faith'

from the ma-foi dept

France has long been in the vanguard of passing bad copyright laws. For example, it rushed to bring in probably the worst implementation of the EU Copyright Directive’s upload filters. It’s also keen on forcing Google to pay French press publishers for sending traffic to them when it displays clickable snippets of their news stories for free. Last year, the French Competition Authority said Google had no choice in the matter, and ordered the company to negotiate with French news organizations and come up with a deal that pays them to display even short excerpts. A year on, it seems that the French Competition Authority is not happy with the way that Google has responded:

At the end of an in-depth investigation, the Autorité found that Google had not complied with several injunctions issued in April 2020. First of all, Google’s negotiations with press publishers and agencies cannot be regarded as having been conducted in good faith, while Google imposed that the discussions necessarily take place within the framework of a new partnership, called Publisher Curated News, which included a new service called Showcase. In doing so, Google refused, as it has been asked on several occasions, to have a specific discussion on the remuneration due for current uses of content protected by related rights.

And to show how really, really cross it is, the Competition Authority has whacked Google with an immediate 500 million euro fine (nearly $600 million). Somehow the French government body believes the following about that ridiculous amount:

[It] takes into account the exceptional seriousness of the infringements observed and how Google’s behaviour has led to further delay the proper implementation of the law on related rights, which aimed to better take into account the value of content from press publishers and agencies included on the platforms. The Autorité will be extremely vigilant on the proper application of its decision, as non-execution can now lead to periodic penalty payment.

That periodic penalty is an equally salty 900,000 euros — around $1 million — per day of “delay”. These figures are truly extraordinary, not least because a rational observer can see that, if anything, it is the French press that ought to be paying Google for the massive amount of free advertising it receives, not the other way around. It’s all further proof that France has been driven mad by its hatred of big US Internet companies, and its equally weird love of maximalist copyright monopolies.

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Comments on “French Competition Authority Fines Google Nearly $600 Million For Failing To Negotiate A Nonsensical Deal With Publishers 'In Good Faith'”

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37 Comments
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nope. The technical term is eminent domain, which translates roughly to "sanctioned robbery".

France is a very, very weird place to operate in and many investing consultant actively discourage international investors from sinking money into France due to risk of that investment becoming a ball-and-chain.

As a european I of course applaud the concept of unions and the conditions they negotiate between workers and employees, but there is such a thing as taking it too far.

Textbook example – could only ever happen in France…
https://www.ft.com/content/b7fce7c6-f7fd-11e1-828f-00144feabdc0

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Anonymous Coward says:

which aimed to better take into account the value of content from press publishers and agencies included on the platforms

The newspapers could prove that value by using robots.txt, or Google could prove the value of being listed by de-listing those papers. I know which option would cause much wailing and screaming for government aid, and its not the use of robots.txt.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I am very surprised Google has just decided it’s not worth the cost to host French news and just drop that from their content. Same with Australia.

Belgium came up with this idea long ago, decided Google needed to pay for snippets. After Google dropped hosting the Belgium news carriers, the uproar coming from those various news services could be heard loud and clear. Suddenly, Google was granted free of fees to post snippets again, complete with source links back to the originator.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Let me suggest.
That 90% of newspapers and News sites are Aggregators.
The news they print Isnt gleaned from Their own sources.
They copy it, pay for it, grab it, and Just COPY PASTE IT.

Local news is local, and no one Worries about the local as much as they May about international.
Who wrote the original article, Cant be blocked because the local Didnt write it.
Who is really getting the money? it aint the locals.
And if the payments are made it will be collected by all the papers and Then GOTO the big guys. NOT the locals.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Maybe because they did that in Spain and the outcome was a bunch of independent news sources getting screwed while they just got sued again by the majors. Not everyone reacts the same to common sense, and I dare say the French are less likely to react sensibly than most other places.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem is that the solution isn’t as simple as that. Google needs to pull all presence it has in the country out entirely so that it can’t be forced to pay fines like this. Otherwise they will start fining them for not linking at all.
The positive side to this is that imposing these kinds of insane fines moves the needle a lot closer to it no longer being financially worth staying in the country.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"Google needs to pull all presence it has in the country out entirely so that it can’t be forced to pay fines like this."

Google has been trying to compromise quite persistently – but it’s like paying off the protection racket; once you hand over that "one-time payment" the rates will just keep growing. And every other gang around will be coming in for their cut as well.

At least if the one you’re paying off is the corrupt minister in some third world country his goons will keep the other wolves at bay, but the way the so-called "link tax" is being proposed all over, there is no end in sight.

Neither Google nor any other search engine can in the end afford to operate in a nation which has let the link tax in. And the sooner they realize this the faster we can all adapt to Google only existing in the Com domain.

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How dare you try to make a framework that reflects the reality of the situation and not the imaginary trillions of dollars we KNOW you are stealing from our news outlets.

Perhaps Google should compile a list of how many times someone has clicked a link in Google & been directed to the news site & assign a value.

There are many ways they can keep Google away, but they never do that because they need the traffic. They just want their industry propped up because they have refused to adapt.

All of the harm they claim Google is causing is dwarfed by the damage these sorts of rules are doing to the little guys who end up in these agreements, but never offered a share of the bounty.

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re:

"Perhaps Google should compile a list of how many times someone has clicked a link in Google & been directed to the news site & assign a value"

Erm, that’s literally why we have clickbait articles now. This issue is about the organisations too dumb or incompetent to capitalise on this.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Perhaps Google should compile a list of how many times someone has clicked a link in Google & been directed to the news site & assign a value."

Google could do that, sure. In fact I’d be surprised if Google hasn’t done so. You think a minister under the thumb of a lobby, looking at a potential 600 million dollar windfall, is going to care about the facts?

No, Google’s one and only way out of this is to consistently hardball out of any nation dumb enough to spring for the "link tax" protection racket. And the problem with that is, Google already rolled over and bared its throat in Australia so now naturally everyone knows Google will cave if pushed hard enough.

If Google had run the Spain strategy as the default their way out would be far less thorny.

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Google news

They already HAVE been wiped from the face of the planet, they’re just too bleepin’ stupid to realize it. Want proof? Just imagine a day without the internet. Now imagine a day without newspapers of any kind. Which one gave you the heebie-jeebies?

Another example: "Nobody demanded a monthly refrigerator fee from refrigerator owners that would go to the Icemen’s Union." (Rick Falkvinge, ca 2012) A very close parallel, I’m sure you’ll all agree.

Need I go on?

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PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Google news

The issue here is the difference between news, "news" and "news"

The former is valuable investigative journalism that doesn’t often turn a direct profit. The second is rewrites of AP and other feeds that don’t add value but get you clickbait hits. The third is half-assed gossip and naked propaganda.

Actual news sources provide the former and are worth protecting. Unfortunately, they’re not the ones who would be protected by these ideas. The latter two might as well realise they’re already paying a human to do a bot’s job and stop the charade.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Google news

"The former is valuable investigative journalism that doesn’t often turn a direct profit."

On the other hand, offering news can be a valuable strategy for keeping the focus on the brand.
Google right now is looking at 600 million USD – a fine which will recur as often as the greedy french media sector can swing it.

Or they can employ, full time, how many journalists and editors locally at a tenth of that? With some losses recouped in the ads in the new pages they build.

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That One Guy (profile) says:

No links, no payments needed

Ah France, if there’s a way to screw something up related to the internet you can be damn sure they’ll not only find it but somehow find a way to do it even worse.

Google just needs to do what they’ve done historically(as opposed to what they’ve done recently) and declare that if they’re going to be charged for carrying certain links/content because it’s so very valuable and they need to pay for their use they’ll simply not do that any more. Watch the publishers go from screaming about how they’re being robbed to screaming about extortion and blackmail when Google delists them because in their greed they thought they deserved to be paid for the free traffic Google is sending them.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: No links, no payments needed

Yep. Google’s way out will be to abandon their .fr domain completely and shutter all their offices and official presence in France.

Which won’t impact Google’s french customers much since they’ll just have to get used to the .com domain instead, but will remove Google from the grasp of french extortion.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Google: Do you want us to just turn off linking to news?
News Companies: No! We want you to pay us for using our content.
Google: But if we don’t link to you anymore, we won’t be using your content.
News: You’ll also destroy our traffic!
Google: Oh? How much money do you figure you make off of the traffic we direct to you?
News: Um…
Google: So, you’re already being paid for your content. Don’t you forget it. Now go away.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

It’s the law. Google don’t have to operate in France if they think it’s not good business

And if that was the way things were being presented, that would be fine. But no country that has proposed laws like this has said to Google "do it this way or get out of our country." In fact, when Google says "We don’t want to do it that way, so we’ll get out of your country" the response is typically along the lines of "NO! You can’t leave! You’re a horrible undemocratic monopoly to make such threats!"

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It’s a corrupt law designed to pad the wallets of parasites unjustly so hopefully they won’t operate in France if the country is stupid enough to keep pushing this, let the greedy publishers scream after they see their traffic plummet once Google pulls out just like has happened every other time Google was smart enough to do that.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Any chance Google deliberatly incured the penalty so they have standing in front of court?"

Only if Google is playing the long game and trying to get the EU courts of justice to look at this. I’m pretty damn sure you can make some argument around the proposed link tax violating all sorts of EU directives, given how it reverses basic concepts of commerce and communication.

But that’d be a long shot and I’m pretty sure Google isn’t taking that risk given how deep they’ll be in the hole when every other member state pulls a France on them over the years it’ll take to push this case all the way to the ECJ.

No, this seems to be just Google determining that any argument made in good faith or abject surrender visavi the french media won’t be enough and they’re going to have to get the hell out of France or see that nation alone becoming a red mark in the General Ledger.

Shaun Wilson (profile) says:

How to negotiate in good faith

Google: by observing the adds placed of your news stories and based on our extensive experience in the advertising industry we have determined that you make 6 cents off every consumer we send you and believe we deserve 50% of that or 3 cents per followed link. We would of course be happy to entertain any good faith argument regarding the method of calculating the add revenue you gain due to us or why the revenue split should be a different percentage.

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