The sight of Google being slapped with a multi-billion-dollar fine by European regulators will undoubtedly cheer up some music rightsholders, but what implications might it have for the industry?
The European Commission has fined Google €4.34bn (around $5bn) for “illegal practices regarding Android mobile devices to strengthen dominance of Google’s search engine”, and ordered the company to change its ways within 90 days, or face penalty payments of up to 5% of the average daily revenues of its parent company Alphabet. Based on the first quarter of this year, that could be up to $17.3m a day.
The case related to Google requiring Android-device makers to pre-install its Google search and Chrome browser apps; paying some manufacturers and mobile operators to make Google the exclusive search app on their Android devices; and preventing Android licensees from “selling even a single smart mobile device” running unapproved-by-Google ‘forks’ of the Android software.
“Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits,” said EC competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai fired back with a blog post claiming that the EC’s decision ignored Android’s competition with Apple’s iOS, among other aspects.
“Rapid innovation, wide choice, and falling prices are classic hallmarks of robust competition and Android has enabled all of them,” wrote Pichai. “Today’s decision rejects the business model that supports Android, which has created more choice for everyone, not less. We intend to appeal.”
And the music implications? With pureplay streaming services like Spotify and Deezer lobbying in Europe to ensure fair ‘access to platforms’ – be they app stores or smart speakers – the EC’s willingness to take action over Android could give them encouragement (although in the music context, it’s Apple more than Google which is the subject of concern for Spotify in particular).