Court actions in Europe and the UK seek to recover almost A$40 billion from Google in compensation for lost advertising revenue.
The two class actions follow Google being fined 220 million Euros in France in a case brought by antitrust regulator, the Autorité de la Concurrence.
In a post this week, INMA Digital Platform Initiative lead Robert Whitehead – who is an investor and advisor in media and disruptive technologies in Australia – says both claims are being organised by Brussels-based competition law firm Geradin Partners.
They seek 17 billion Euros in the EU and GBP£7 billion in the UK, equivalent to almost A$40 billion Australian dollars. Geradin brought the earlier case against Google in France on behalf of a small group of media companies including News Corp.
In Europe, any digital publisher that accepts advertising can sign up but must opt in, while all UK-based publishers are automatically included. Whitehead says the claim is being filed in the Netherlands because this type of case is common there, and damages can be calculated for each European country.
“The twin class actions in Europe are funded by a London-based litigation fund, Harbour, the world’s largest privately owned fund of its type, which would be paid out of any damages that are awarded,” he says.
Different law firms in the Netherlands (Stek) and the UK (Humphries Kerstetter) represent the action initiated by Geradin, with damages assessed by economists at Charles River Associates.
“Google is unlikely to sit on its hands with this one,” says Whitehead. “The company could elect to go to trial to prove it didn’t violate the law, or it could decide to settle given last year’s French regulatory finding.”
He says settlement would allow Google to stay in control of the terms that they would have to offer – not just financial damages but also the commitments it would need to offer regulators.
In a written statement after the class actions were announced, Google said the lawsuit was speculative and opportunistic. “When we receive the complaint, we’ll fight it vigorously.”
Damien Geradin told INMA the action was the result of many years of work: “I’ve been lucky to have extremely patient clients and to work also with the European Publishers Council which has been also very supportive.
“So, it’s not opportunistic. It’s the logical outcome of everything we’ve tried to achieve for many years now.”