Google pays its fine, the Competition Authority validates its commitments

While Covid-19 was just emerging in China, in November 2019, France had just transposed into law the European directive establishing a related right. For a long time Google tried to avoid applying the text, until it received from the Competition Authority the heaviest fine ever imposed, 500 million euros. The latter announced on June 21, 2022 that the litigation is now approaching its epilogue.

A frantic legal battle

The Competition Authority had been seized in November 2019 by complaints from Agence France-Presse, Alliance of the general information press and the Syndicate of magazine press publishers. They criticized Google for not negotiating in good faith the establishment of neighboring rights to which the company was opposed.

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Neighboring rights consist, for a Google or Facebook, for example, of paying publishers income for the display of their articles in the results of their platforms. Google, firmly against this text, went so far as to threaten to remove article excerpts from its results. Facebook had gone so far in Australia, where a similar law was passed.

In France, Facebook negotiated with good grace with publishers, but this was not the case with Google. In April 2020, the Authority required Mountain View to change its attitude in non-negotiations and not to take advantage of its dominant position as a threat during discussions. In July 2021, the French antitrust found that Google had not complied with its injunction and fined it 500 million euros.

While Google immediately challenged a sanction deemed disproportionate, the merits of the case continued. In December 2021, the American giant made several commitments for a healthier and more balanced framework for negotiating neighboring rights with publishers. Commitments amended until the final proposal, May 9, 2022. These are the ones that the Authority ended up accepting. In return, Google waived its right to appeal its fine.

Google and the Competition Authority hit

These commitments are not particularly revolutionary. It is about negotiating on the basis of transparent, objective and non-discriminatory criteria. These exchanges must take place within a reasonable time, with a proposal after three months. Without agreement, recourse will be had to an arbitration tribunal, at the expense of the company.

Google will have to provide the necessary information so that everyone is on an equal footing, such as the number of impressions and clicks on Google Search or News, Google’s income in France… Finally, Mountain View has promised neutrality in the discussions, c i.e. the company will refrain from modifying the indexing nor the ranking of the publishers.

These commitments apply to all publishers, whether they are online press services providing political and general information (IPG certified) or not. An independent representative will be responsible for verifying compliance with the promises made, he will take care of verifying the Google data covered by business secrecy.

Benoît Coeuré, the president of the Autorité de la concurrence since the beginning of 2022, declared that ” the Autorité today welcomes the commitments made by Google “. He estimates that ” For the first time in Europe, the commitments made by Google provide a dynamic framework for negotiation and sharing of the information necessary for a transparent assessment of the remuneration of direct and indirect related rights. “.

For its part, Google claimed to have all done over the past two years to arrive at this framework for negotiations. The company recalls having already concluded 150 agreements with securities in France and 650 throughout Europe under the directive. Publishers who already have an agreement can, if they wish, renegotiate it as part of the new commitments made by Google.

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