This decision was rendered on February 12, 2019 in an action that was initiated against Google Inc. in 2014 by an old French consumer not-for-profit organization, UFC QueChoisir. It took 4 years for the case to get to trial, and an additional 11 months to issue a 136 page long decision, which is quite unusual according to French standards.
Among the invalidated clauses include three IP clauses discussed below:
Clause 16 – General License Granted to Google for Content Submitted by Users
Secondly, there is a requirement under French copyright law that any grant of right must specify which rights are granted, the territory, the duration of the license, and the authorized use, as required under article L.131-3 of the Intellectual Property Code. The practical consequence of this rule is that in French contracts with authors, grant clauses are usually quite lengthy. Here, the court held that Clause 16 was too vague and therefore did not comply with article L.131-3, despite the fact that the duration was clearly the entire life of copyright protection, and the territory was clearly worldwide. Although Google explained that the rights being granted were “for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones,” ultimately the court found that this “limited purpose” was too broad.
Clauses 13 and 14 – U.S. Style Copyright Infringement Management Terms
The Paris court held that these two clauses address copyright infringement exclusively in light of U.S. law. Since French consumers are not familiar with U.S. legislation and case law, and because Google, according to the French judges, refuses to follow rules other than U.S. rules, the clauses create a significant imbalance, are abusive for purposes of the Consumers Code, and are invalid.
The Practical Effect of Paris Court’s Decision
Although the judgment rendered by the Paris Court is not immediately enforceable, the court ordered Google to make the judgment public within one month by means of a hyperlink on the home page of its website and app. The court also noted that a daily penalty of 5,000 euros would be imposed for non-compliance.
One might take the view that the decision will have limited impact since Google announced last year that it would sunset the consumer version of its social media network. However, the impact of this decision is potentially much broader, because these clauses do not only apply to Google+, but they also belong to the common terms and policies which govern Google services generally. The decision also addresses violations of the Data Protection Law. Stay tuned for our comments on those issues, which will be published soon on our Security, Privacy and the Law blog.