Google Fined 250 Million Euros By French Competition Watchdog

Alphabet’s Google has slapped with a hefty financial penalty by French officials regarding alleged breaching of a French law, and IP violations to train its AI service.

The French competition watchdog, the Autorité de la concurrence, announced that it has fined Google €250 million (£213m or $271m) for breaches linked to EU intellectual property rules, and for using content from digital publishers to train its Bard artificial intelligence (AI) service.

And Google has opted not to contest the penalty the watchdog added, pointing that the Alphabet division has proposed a series of remedy measures to certain shortcomings.

250m euro fine

France’s Autorité de la concurrence pointed out that this is the fourth decision issued by the Autorité in this case in four years, for breaching its 2019 laws that aim “to create the necessary conditions for balanced negotiations between press agencies, publishers and digital platforms.”

After being stung by a hefty 500 euro fine in 2021, which Google appealed, the case seemed to be settled after Google made a number of commitments.

But the French officials stated Google did not uphold its commitments as part of the settlement.

In this latest decision, the Autorité said it has “fined Google for breaching its commitment to co-operate with the monitoring trustee and failing to comply with four of its seven commitments.”

It said the aim of Google’s commitments was to guarantee the following principles:

  • negotiate in good faith, based on transparent, objective and non-discriminatory criteria, within three months (Commitments 1 and 4);
  • provide press agencies and publishers with the information needed to transparently assess their remuneration for related rights (Commitment 2);
  • take the necessary measures to ensure that negotiations do not affect other economic relationships between Google and press agencies and publishers (Commitment 6).

And the French regulator has also held Google to account for the training of its AI services, which allegedly used content from digital publishers.

“With regard to ‘Bard’, the artificial intelligence service launched by Google in July 2023, the Autorité found in particular that Bard had used content from press agencies and publishers to train its foundation model, without notifying either them or the Autorité,” it stated.

“Google subsequently linked the use by its artificial intelligence service of the content concerned to the display of protected content, by failing to propose a technical solution for press agencies and publishers to opt out of the use of their content by Bard without affecting the display of content protected by related rights on other Google services, thus obstructing the ability of press agencies and publishers to negotiate remuneration,” it added.

“In view of these breaches, the Autorité has imposed a fine of €250 million on Alphabet Inc., Google LLC, Google Ireland Ltd and Google France,” it said. “As Google undertook not to contest the facts, it was able to benefit from the settlement procedure. Google has also proposed a series of corrective measures to address certain breaches identified by the Autorité de la concurrence.”

AI training

Google is not the only firm to face legal action over the training of its AI services.

OpenAI for example was sued last month for alleged unauthorised use of journalism and online content to train its AI chatbot.

That lawsuit was from three online news outlets in the United States, who are seeking at least $2,500 in damages for each time one of their stories has been used by ChatGPT.

It comes after the New York Times in December 2023 became the first major US media organisation to sue OpenAI (and its main investor Microsoft).

That lawsuit had alleged that millions of NYT articles had been used to train the OpenAI chatbot that now competed with the news organisation.

Multiple book authors including David Baldacci, Jonathan Franzen, John Grisham and Scott Turow, have also sued OpenAI, alleging that AI systems might have co-opted tens of thousands of their books.

In July 2023, the comedian Sarah Silverman and other authors sued both OpenAI and Meta Platforms.

Photo library giant Getty Image meanwhile sued an AI company that generates images based on written prompts, alleging the platform relies on unauthorised use of Getty’s copyrighted visual materials.

Some news organisations have however reached agreements with AI firms.

In July last year, the Associated Press struck a licensing deal with OpenAI, and then German publishing giant Axel Springer also reached an agreement for an undisclosed amount.

Many French fines

Google has been stung with multiple fines from French officials over the years.

In 2014 for example the French data protection watchdog the National Commission on Computing and Freedom (CNIL) fined Google €150,000 for ignoring a three-month deadline to clean up its data privacy policies.

More recently in January 2019 Google was slapped with a 50 million euro fine for breaking EU privacy laws in France.

Then in September 2019 Google agreed to pay French authorities nearly 1 billion euros to settle a fiscal fraud probe that had begun in 2015.

In December 2020 Google was issued fines totalling 100 million euros, the largest ever fine issued by the French data privacy watchdog (CNIL) at the time, over forcing the use of advertising tracking cookies on people’s devices.

In June 2021 Google agreed to pay 220m euros to settle antitrust charges from French regulators that it unfairly favoured its own tools for buying and selling adverts.

In January 2022 CNIL also imposed a 150 million euros ($169m) fine on Google, and 60m euros fine on Meta (Facebook), over complexities about refusing online cookies.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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