Google drops appeal against 500 million euro antitrust license fine – TechCrunch

Google has quietly dropped its appeal in France against a half-billion-euro antitrust fine imposed on it last summer for major failings in the way it negotiated to pay local news publishers for the posting of copyrighted material.

A major reform of the European Union’s digital copyright rules, approved in 2019 – and transposed into French law shortly afterwards – created a new right covering the reuse of extracts of news content .

Google responded to the law change in France by first seeking to evade payment by ceasing to display such snippets in products like its news aggregator. But the country’s antitrust watchdog intervened in 2020 – suspecting that Google’s unilateral act was an abuse of market power and ordering it to pay publishers for the reuse of content.

Google then sought to strike deals with French publishers, but this soon led to complaints about the way it was negotiating – for example withholding key information and seeking to pressure publishers into bundling neighboring rights payments in the license terms of a News Showcase product that Google had designed – so Google’s actions prompted another regulatory intervention; and, in July 2021, a fine of $592 million for abusive trading practices.

The tech giant called the fine “disproportionate” when it filed its appeal against the Competition Authority‘s sanction last fall.

However, it is now agreed to withdraw the appeal. The development comes as France’s competition regulator today said it accepted behavioral commitments first offered by Google in December as it sought to settle antitrust action – suggesting that Google drop the appeal is part of the full settlement that was announced today.

“Google undertakes to withdraw its appeal against the decision not to comply with the injunctions. The fine of 500 million euros imposed by the Autorité on July 12, 2021 therefore becomes final. Authority written in a press release [translated from French with machine translation].

In its own blog post on the settlement, Google doesn’t mention the withdrawal of the appeal — instead, it passes off its commitments as being accepted as drawing a line under a problematic chapter for its business.

“Today the Competition Authority accepted our commitments, which frame the way in which these negotiations [over reuse of news publishers’ content] will be carried out for the years to come”, writes Sébastien Missoffe, general manager and vice-president of Google France. “An independent agent will be appointed and will be responsible for monitoring the proper execution of the commitments. These commitments illustrate our desire to move forward and remunerate publishers and press agencies for their related rights.

What exactly did Google accept? The commitments accepted by the French regulator are now a strengthened version of those initially proposed by Google at the end of last year.

The regulator said Google is committed to entering into good faith negotiations with news publishers who seek talks on compensation for their content under the law – applying “transparent, objective and non-discriminatory criteria” .

This includes agreeing to deliver key information to publishers in a timely manner (e.g., the number of impressions and click-through rates of their protected content on Google Search, Google News and Google Discover; as well as revenue data of Google in France); and agreeing to pass on to an independent agent any additional relevant information that publishers may request (a structure that seems intended to circumvent problems with Google’s sharing of confidential information too directly).

The framework commits the tech giant to make a compensation offer within three months of starting negotiations with a publisher.

In the event of a disagreement, the framework allows an arbitral tribunal to determine how much Google should pay.

Google has explicitly agreed to maintain separate terms with publishers to license legally protected content – ​​so as not to seek to bundle this type of content license under the terms of any other Google media product (such as its News Showcase vehicle), as he has tried before.

Authority also notes that Google has agreed to expand the scope of its commitments to cover publishers it previously sought to exclude, including news agencies.

Google’s blog post talks about the number of deals it has struck with French publishers in the meantime – with the tech giant writing that it has “agreements with over 150 press publications in France”.

However, as the regulator points out, the terms of the negotiation framework that are agreed to mean that publishers are not bound by any contract they have previously signed with Google – and are instead free to renegotiate the terms with the benefit from the new framework in place if they so wish. wish (although existing contracts will apply until replaced by new offers).

Google has also pledged not to take what would amount to retaliatory action against publishers — pledging that the negotiations will not affect the indexing, classification, or presentation of protected content; and do not affect other economic relationships that may exist between Google and press publishers and news agencies, for example Authority.

Commitments are now made binding for a period of five years — with the possibility of renewal for another five years, at the discretion of the regulator.

A licensed Independent Agent will review Google’s application and oversee its negotiations with publishers. This agent (as yet unnamed) will play an active role in the settlement of potential disputes by issuing opinions and proposals to the The Authority — Google has agreed to be bound (although publishers remain free to seek other legal means to resolve disputes if they wish).

Commenting in a press release, Benoît Cœuré, president of Authority, The regulator welcomes – “on the merits” – the commitments made by Google following its intervention and its sanction, adding:

The combination of these different means of action now makes it possible to create an environment offering more stability and guarantees of fairness for publishers and press agencies. For the first time in Europe, the commitments made by Google offer a dynamic framework for negotiation and sharing of the information necessary for a transparent assessment of the remuneration of direct and indirect neighboring rights. This framework will improve evaluation methods and make it easier for Google to provide the information it needs.

The problem of news reuse does not only apply to Google’s French operations; EU copyright reform will apply across the bloc once all member states have transposed the regulation into national law – so the framework agreed in France is likely to be a model for d other negotiations with regional news publishers. (According to the Google blog, the company has signed agreements with more than 650 publications so far – although it may have to redo the terms depending on what was agreed in France if publishers elsewhere decide that want a better deal.)

Beyond the EU, Google’s licensing negotiations with Australian publishers are also regulated after the country passed its own Information Code Negotiations Act early last year.

While the UK also appears to be considering similar legislation to support publishers as it works on a reboot of national competition rules shrouding tech giants. Although there is no prospect of change in the short term after the government delayed the introduction of legislation.

However, the UK’s competition watchdog has said it will make full use of its existing powers in the meantime – which in recent years has included securing a set of commitments from Google over the how it will remove tracking cookie support in Chrome and install an adtech alternative.

Germany’s competition watchdog, meanwhile, has been investigating Google’s News Showcase licensing product since last summer — following complaints about a planned integration into Google’s general search function, it seems. likely to be self-preferences and/or unfair disadvantages of competing services offered by third parties.

This investigation by the German FCO is still ongoing. But in January, Google proposed limiting how News Showcase’s ‘story panels’ would appear in Marketplace search results – shortly after the country’s competition watchdog determined that he could apply special abuse controls to Google.

The little story behind all of these antitrust interventions is that Big Tech’s TOCs are being gradually reshaped by forces beyond their control. And – notably – it is the international regulators who are racing at the forefront of this forced restart.