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France fines Google €500m for unauthorised content usage

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France’s competition authority on Tuesday slammed Google with a €500 million ($593 million) fine for failing to negotiate “in good faith” with media companies over the use of their content under EU copyright rules.

The agency’s chief, Isabelle De Silva, said the decision was intended to “reflect the gravity of Google’s shortcomings”.

It is “the biggest ever fine” imposed by the regulator for a company’s failure to adhere to one of its provisions,

The regulator also ordered Google to present media publishers with “an offer of remuneration for the current use of their copyrighted content”, or risk paying additional damages of up to €900,000 a day.

However, Google through one of its spokesperson said in a statement that the company was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“We have acted in good faith during the entire negotiation period. This fine does not reflect the efforts put in place, nor the reality of the use of news content on our platform.

“This decision is mainly about negotiations that took place between May and September 2020. Since then, we have continued to work with publishers and news agencies to find common ground,” Google said.

Meanwhile, the long-running legal battle had centred on claims that Google has been showing articles, pictures, and videos produced by media outlets when displaying search results without adequate compensation, despite the seismic shift of global advertising revenues towards the company.

The French competition authority had in April 2020, ordered Google to negotiate “in good faith” with media groups after it refused to comply with a 2019 EU law governing digital copyright.

The law aims to ensure that news publishers are compensated when their work is shown on websites, search engines, and social media platforms.

But last September, French news publishers including Agence France-Presse (AFP) filed a complaint with regulators, saying Google was refusing to move forward on paying to display content in web searches.

However, while Google said it has made progress on the issue, the French regulator said the company’s behaviour “indicates a deliberate, elaborate and systematic lack of respect” for its order to negotiate in good faith.

In particular, the Competition Authority rebuked Google for having failed to “have a specific discussion” with media companies about neighbouring rights during negotiations over its Google Showcase news service, which launched late last year.

Google initially refused to pay media outlets for the snippets of news stories, photos, and videos that appear in the search results, arguing that the traffic these searches send to their websites was payment enough.

READ ALSO: Google, Facebook, Twitter, others to pay tax in Nigeria – Osinbajo

However, the company softened its stance and announced in November that it had signed “some individual agreements” on copyright payments with French newspapers and magazines, including top dailies Le Monde and Le Figaro.

Also, Australia has taken one of the most aggressive positions, demanding that Google and Facebook pay media organisations when their platforms host their content or face millions of dollars in fines.

The landmark legislation resulted in Google and Facebook signing deals worth millions of dollars to Australian media companies.

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