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Google Maps draws fine in France for being free

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Google has been ordered to pay a fine and damages to French mapping company Bottin Cartographes because it makes Google Maps available for free, undercutting companies that offer similar services for a fee. Bottin Cartographes had filed an unfair competition complaint against Google, claiming the search giant was abusing its dominant position in the Internet search market to achieve a leading position in the digital mapping market. The Paris Commercial Court agreed, ordering Google to pay a €500,000 to Bottin Cartographes as well as a €15,000 fine.

Bottin Cartographes argued that Google’s strategy in the mapping market was to swallow the full costs of providing mapping and location services until it gains control of the market. Once Google had eliminated the competition, it would be free to charge anything it wanted for the service.

“We proved the illegality of (Google’s) strategy to remove its competitors,” Bottin Cartographes’ lawyer Jean-David Scemmama told the AFP. “The court recognized the unfair and abusive character of the methods used and allocated Bottin Cartographes all it claimed.”

Google has indicated it planned to appeal the ruling, but did not respond to further requests to comment.

The fine itself is almost negligible to Google: the company has very deep pockets. However, the ruling could set a precedent for Google’s ongoing regulatory struggles in France and the EU. Google is the subject of another antitrust challenge in France (this one over AdWords) in which a preliminary ruling has already found Google guilty of abusing its dominant position in Internet search. Google also faces a similar complaint in Brussels, although Google did have a challenge to Google Maps by Euro-Cities dismissed by a German court last year. Google has also faced scrutiny in Europe for the privacy implications of its map-related Street View service, leading Google to abandon Street View in Germany.

[Update 03-Feb-2012: Germany’s Hot-Maps Medien Gmbh and Euro-Cities indicate that their antitrust complaints in Germany over Google’s free mapping products were not dismissed; rather, they have been rolled into the European Commission’s broader antitrust investigation of Google.]

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