Sources, Telecom Information, ET Telecom

By Mathieu Rosemain

PARIS: French antitrust investigators accused Alphabet Inc. of Google of failing to comply with instructions from state competition authority to conduct negotiations with news publishers over copyright, said two sources who read the investigators’ report.

In the 93-page report known as the Statement of Objection, investigators wrote that Google’s non-compliance was extremely serious.

This is due to complaints from French news publishers that Google did not speak in good faith with them in order to reach an agreement. The same publishers were not part of the three-year deal between the US firm and a group of 121 publications for $ 76 million, Reuters reported earlier this month.

The agreement was presented as an important step forward by both Google and the publishers who signed it, but it left many publications angry.

The French competition authority can fines companies that they believe are violating its rules of up to 10% of their turnover. Google’s annual revenue in 2020 was approximately $ 183 billion.

The investigation report is a key element in the agency’s sanctions process, but it is up to the supervisory body, led by Isabelle de Silva, to decide whether to impose a penalty.

The largest penalty ever imposed by the French antitrust authorities was on iPhone maker Apple Inc last year, fined 1.1 billion euros ($ 1.34 billion) for anti-competitive behavior towards its sales and distribution companies Retail network.

A spokeswoman for the competition authority declined to comment.

In response to a Reuters request for comment, Google responded in a statement: “Our priority is to comply with the law and continue to negotiate in good faith with publishers, as shown by the agreements we have made with publishers over the past few years Months. ”

“We will now review the statement of objections and work closely with the French competition authority,” it said.

The French report on Google’s negotiating tactics comes at a time when countries around the world are pushing US internet giants like Google and Facebook Inc to share more revenue with news publishers. The issue gained international attention this week when Facebook banned all communications from its services in Australia over a bill that would mandate arbitration.

According to the two sources, French investigators have indicated that Google has failed to comply with the watchdog’s requests to negotiate with the publishers within a period of three months and provide any data the watchdog deemed necessary.

The publishing lobby that signed the deal with Google, APIG, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The French news agency AFP and another media lobby group, SEPM, neither of which had signed a contract with Google, did not respond to requests for comment.

Reuters signed its own global deal with Google in January on terms that have not been publicly disclosed.

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