Exclusive: French antitrust investigators say Google breached its orders on talks with news publishers

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a logo of Google in Zurich

By Mathieu Rosemain

PARIS (Reuters) – French antitrust investigators have accused Google of failing to comply with the state competition authority’s orders on how to conduct negotiations with news publishers over copyright, two sources who read the investigators’ report said.

In the 93-page report, known as a statement of objections, the investigators wrote that Google’s failure to comply was of an exceptionally serious nature, the sources said. The competition authority can impose fines of up to 10% of sales on firms it deems to be in violation of its rules.

A spokeswoman for the competition authority declined to comment.

In response to a Reuters request for comment, Google, owned by Alphabet (NASDAQ:), Inc, said in a statement: “Our priority is to comply with the law, and to continue to negotiate with publishers in good faith, as evidenced by the agreements we have made with publishers in the past few months.”

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

In one of the first major deals in Europe to resolve a dispute over how internet giants should share revenue with news publishers, Google agreed to pay $76 million over three years to a group of 121 French publishers, Reuters reported earlier this month.

The deal was presented as a major step forward by both Google and the publishers who signed it, but other French publications that were excluded were furious.

The French report on Google’s negotiating tactics comes at a time when countries around the world are pushing U.S. internet giants such as Google and Facebook (NASDAQ:) to share more revenue with news publishers. The issue gained international attention this week when Facebook banned all news from its services in Australia over a draft law there that would mandate arbitration.

According to the two sources, the French investigators say Google did not comply with requests from the watchdog to start negotiations with the publishers within a three-month deadline, and to provide all data the watchdog felt publishers needed.

The publishers’ lobby that signed the deal with Google, APIG, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. French news agency AFP, and another media lobby group, SEPM — both of which did not sign a deal with Google — did not respond to requests for comment.

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

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