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March 21, 2024

French watchdog fines Google €250m over breach of copyright deal

The tech giant failed to comply with commitments made with French media publishers and press agencies.

By Livia Giannotti

The French competition regulator fined Google €250m on Wednesday after it found the company did not comply with a 2022 deal with media publishers and agencies over their intellectual property rights.

Google AI model which was prompted the fine is shown on a phone and Google logo is in the background

Google breached a deal with media publishers about their intellectual property rights. (Photo by rafapress / Shutterstock)

The watchdog said in a statement that Google used copyrighted content from press agencies and publishers without their permission to train its AI-powered chatbot Gemini (formerly Bard). The regulator also found that Google did not give publishers and agencies a “technical solution… to opt out of the use of their content” which obstructed their ability “to negotiate remuneration”.

These actions breach a binding deal agreed in 2022 between Google and media publishers, which was accepted by the regulator as a solution to competition and copyright concerns expressed by the media.

How did Google react to the regulator’s fine?

On Wednesday, Google said in a blog post that although it is “the first and only platform to have signed a significant number of licensing agreements with 280 French news publishers”,  it has agreed to settle the €250m fine “because it’s time to move on”. The tech company also said that it wants to “remain committed to complying with the law” and added that it hopes “to continue to support press publishers in France, but it is not straightforward to do so.”

Google’s commitments included providing press agencies and publishers with the information needed to assess their remuneration for neighbouring rights, negotiating “in good faith” and “within three months” with publishers that request remuneration for the use of copyrighted content and ensuring that those negotiations would not affect other economic relationships with agencies and publishers.

The commitments are linked to a 2019 copyright dispute that saw French news organisations complain about infringements of neighbouring rights by Google. The regulator investigated the claims and issued a €500m fine to the tech giant for failing to comply with publishers and press agencies’ “right to allow or forbid the re-use of their content by digital platforms” which was made law in July 2019 in France.

As part of the settlement reached in 2022, Google pledged not to contest the facts and agreed on the commitments. 

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Tech companies’ history of copyright infringement

Google’s fine comes as news publishers around the world have been suing tech companies for infringing their intellectual property rights to train large language models (LLMs). The New York Times sued OpenAI and Microsoft in December 2023 claiming that “millions of articles” were used to train AI-powered chatbots, followed by other outlets including The Intercept, Raw Story and Alter Net.

However, other publishers including Associated Press, Le Monde and Axel Springer chose to negotiate with tech firms and sign deals allowing LLMs to use their content. In February 2024, Press Gazette revealed that “more than four in ten of the top 100 news websites in the English language allow all AI web crawlers to scrape their content”.

Read more: AI lawsuits: the existential threat to generative AI

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