After the law came into effect last year, Google said that it would simply remove snippets altogether unless publishers granted it the right to do so. However, the ruling body (called l’Autorité de la Concurrence) said that the “the vast majority of press publishers have granted Google licenses to use and display their protected content... without any remuneration from Google.”
The Autorité believes that Google may have abused its dominant position in the market for general search services by imposing unfair trading conditions on publishers and news agencies.
The publishers were forced to give away the content for free, it suggested, because Google has a 90 percent share of the search market in France. As such, publishers would suffer lost business (a 26 to 90 percent decline in traffic) if their article extracts didn’t appear in Google’s results. At the same time, Google gained the benefit of providing better search results for its users without having to pay anything.
The authority decided to make the interim ruling following complaints by the Agence France-Presse (AFP) and several unions representing publishers. During the negotiations, Google must continue displaying snippets, photos and video according to its current (non-paid) agreements with publishers. Once remuneration has been decided, Google will need to pay publishers retroactively going back to October 2019.
Google has previously said that it sells neither searches nor clicks. "We sell ads, not search results, and every ad on Google is clearly marked,” said Google's VP of News, Richard Gingras last year. “That's also why we don't pay publishers when people click on their links in a search result."
Google told Engadget that it has been working with publishers in Europe to drive more traffic to their sites, while also investing in partnerships and subscription tools. At the same time, it is reportedly in talks with publishers to pay for content via a possible subscription service similar to Apple News+.
However, France’s competition body believes that Google has violated the new law and “caused a serious and immediate harm to the press sector.” The interim ruling will remain in effect until the Autorité has completed its investigation and made a “final decision on the merits of the case.”