In France, Free Is Bad

Google got hit with a six figure damage award in a French Court this week. Its offense? Offering its Google Map service for free. Bottin Cartographers, a company that offers map services for a fee, contended that Google offered the free service in an effort to drive it out of business. Bottin convinced the court, which awarded it $600,000 in damages. The court also imposed a $20,000 fine. I suspect $620,000 is chump change to Google, but the implications of the holding are significant. According to an article in Digital Trends Google is facing similar claims in other parts of Europe. I am not an expert in U.S.antitrust law, but I suspect this type of claim wouldn’t fly here. Here, antitrust laws are designed to protect competition, not competitors. While U.S.courts do protect against “predatory” pricing, that is typically done for fear that the “predatory” company doesn’t eliminate competition and then raise the prices to whatever it feels like. I imagine Google intends to continue to offer the map service for free, and simply rely on advertising revenue. If the consumer keeps getting the service for free, it’s hard to see how there’s been damage to competition. Even if there’s been harm to a competitor, in this case Bottin.