In brief: Google has been accused of not acting in good faith when asked to negotiate fair payment for using news snippets across Search and Google News. As a result, the French competition watchdog has fined the company to the tune of $591 million and will continue to fine them for every failure to negotiate deals with individual publishers within two months of receiving such requests.
This week, Google was fined €500 million ($591 million) in France after it failed to comply with an order to negotiate a fair agreement on a revenue split with news publishers whose content is used on the Google News platform. It's a significant blow for the search giant, and the second-biggest dealt by French authorities to any company.
Back in 2020, the French competition watchdog used the pretext of the EU's Copyright Directive -- also referred to by some as the "Link Tax" -- to force Google into paying publishers for the use of snippets or article previews across services like Search and Google News. The controversial ruling meant Google had two choices: make a deal with publishers or remove snippets altogether.
Google wanted to opt for the latter solution and gradually add back snippets for publishers that granted the company the right to do so, but that didn't please the French authorities.
The search giant also introduced a $1 billion initiative called Google News Showcase aimed at supporting high-quality journalism in Europe on the company's own terms, while maintaining the position that publishers benefit greatly from Google's services that funnel visitors to their websites.
Earlier this year, Google reached an agreement with a French newspaper group, but individual rates were still a nebulous that had to be sorted out through separate negotiations with each publisher. Bloomberg notes regulators were unimpressed with some of the payment offers, going as far as calling them "negligible."
Isabelle de Silva, who is head of the French competition watchdog, said in a statement the fine "takes into account the exceptional seriousness of the breaches observed." She also explained that Google offered to pay less for news items when compared to things like weather information or dictionary listings.
Moving forward, Google has to hold negotiations with publishers within two months of receiving such requests. Failing that, the company will be fined up to €900,000 ($1.06 million) per day. The search giant is, of course, disappointed by the decision and believes it has "acted in good faith throughout the entire process," adding that the fine ignores their efforts to reach an agreement "and the reality of how news works on our platforms."
Google faced similar hurdles in Australia last year, and at one point threatened to pull its search engine from the country as a sign of protest against a similar law requiring search engines to pay for linking to news articles. Since then, the company has reached a number of deals with publishers in Australia, the UK, and Canada to pay for news snippets and even integrate them into Google News Showcase.