Google challenges $591M French fine amid broader antitrust war

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Google plans to fight a $591 million fine that was levied by France’s antitrust watchdog earlier this summer over compensating publishers for news content — just one front in a broader battle that has the tech giant facing off against anti-monopoly regulators across the globe.

French authorities first levied the fine against Google in July, accusing the company of making money from news publishers’ content without negotiating to pay for it in good faith — a gripe similar to complaints made by regulators across Europe and Australia, as well as by politicians and publishers in the US.

Google said Wednesday that the punishment was unfair and said it will ask Paris’ court of appeal to overturn the fine.

“We disagree with a number of legal elements, and believe that the fine is disproportionate to our efforts to reach an agreement and comply with the new law,” said Sebastien Missoffe, head of Google France, on Wednesday.

But France’s competition watchdog, the French Competition Authority, fired back that Google must pay the fine regardless of its plans to appeal. The authority did not say how long the appeal process would take. 

France is not the only place where Google has faced scrutiny for its practices, particularly when it comes to its use of material produced by publishers.

In February, Australia passed a law requiring Google and Facebook to pay for news — and New York Post parent company News Corp. negotiated its own global deal with Google to reportedly be paid “tens of millions” of dollars to provide news content during the same month. 

Google news app
Google said that the punishment was unfair and will ask Paris’ court of appeal to overturn the fine.
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German news publisher Axel Springer — which last week bought US political reporting powerhouse Politico for a cool $1 billion — has also tussled with Google over paying for content.

Axel Springer’s ownership of an influential Washington D.C. publisher could put pressure on federal lawmakers to make Silicon Valley pay up for news content, some analysts say. 

Meanwhile, Google and Apple are both also facing antitrust pressure in the US, Europe and Asia over the hefty payments fees the companies charge app developers.

Developers argue that, among other things, it’s unfair to make customers use Google’s and Apple’s payment systems — which allow the tech behemoths to take a 30 percent cut of the cost a subscription sold through their apps, for instance.

Axel Springer building
Axel Springer’s puchase of Politico could put pressure on federal lawmakers to make Silicon Valley pay up for news content, some analysts say. 
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A bipartisan group of US lawmakers have introduced bills in Congress that would end Google and Apple’s “stranglehold” over developers by blocking them from requiring use of their own payments systems.

The European Union also opened an investigation last year into whether such payments commissions violate antitrust law.

In France, the fine came in response to complaints first brought by French news publisher Agence France-Presse, as well as industry groups representing major newspapers like Le Monde and Le Figaro. 

Paris regulators had ordered Google in 2020 to hold talks over payments for news within three months of any publisher requesting them, a mandate they said the company ignored. 

Google play on phone
Google has faced antitrust pressure over the payments commissions it charges developers.
Alamy Stock Photo

During negotiations, Google allegedly “restricted the scope of negotiation without justification,” including by requiring publishers to participate in a new partnership program called “News Showcase.” These restrictions violated the government’s order to negotiate in good faith, France’s antitrust authority said.

At the time, the regulator gave Google two months to introduce a new plan to pay publishers — a deadline that’s set to pass later in September — and threatened to slap the company with fines of more than $1 million per day if it did not abide by the ruling.

At the time, Google said it had “acted in good faith throughout the entire process” and said the fine ignored the “reality of how news works on our platforms.” 

On Thursday, Missoffe said the company continued to “work hard to resolve this case and put deals in place.”

“This includes expanding offers to 1,200 publishers, clarifying aspects of our contracts, and sharing more data as requested by the French Competition Authority,” Google’s France chief added. 

With Post wires



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