Google deal with French publishers on hold pending antitrust decision

Google has put on hold a preliminary deal with some French publishers to pay for news content as it awaits an antitrust decision that could set the tone for copyright talks on online news in Europe, two sources close to the matter said.

Under the three-year framework agreement signed by Google and the Alliance de la presse d’information generale (APIG), a lobby group representing most major French publishers, the U.S. company agreed in January to pay a total of $76 million to 121 publications, according to documents seen by Reuters.

It is one of the highest-profile deals under Google’s “News Showcase” programme to provide compensation for news snippets used in search results, and the first of its kind in Europe.

However, no individual licensing agreement has been signed by Google with an APIG member since then and talks are de facto frozen pending the antitrust decision, the sources said.

Only a few publications, such as daily newspapers Le Monde, Le Figaro and Liberation, had reached individual deals prior to the framework agreement.

“We’re still working with publishers, the APIG and the French competition authority on our agreements in order to finalise and sign more deals,” Google, a unit of Alphabet Inc, said in a statement.

It is not clear whether the framework agreement might be scrapped as a result of the antitrust ruling in France, which is expected in the coming weeks, the sources said.

The French competition authority hasn’t said when it will publish its decision.

The deal freeze was triggered by a report presented by French antitrust investigators in February, the sources said.

In the report, which was not made public, antitrust investigators accused Google of failing to comply with the French competition authority’s orders on how to conduct negotiations with news publishers over copyright, sources who read it told Reuters at the time.

It is up to the watchdog’s board to decide whether to issue a penalty.

One of the key demands issued by the watchdog was for Google to hold “transparent, objective and non-discriminatory” talks in good faith over three months with any news publisher that asked for them.

Google has repeatedly said it held talks with French news publishers in good faith. Many French news outlets disagree.

The APIG-Google deal includes the commitment for any signing news publisher to supply Google’s News Showcase product, a provision decried by news publishers outside APIG.

Google is ready to hold talks with news publishers beyond APIG, Sebastien Missoffe, head of the firm’s French division, told Europe 1 radio last month.

He added he was open to giving access to some of Google’s online traffic data – a key element to determine the value of news content – to an independent third party.