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French court slashes Apple's €1.1b fine to pocket change

Instead of a week of profits, mere days of net income for Cook

The record-setting €1.1 billion fine levied against Apple by French authorities has been cut by two-thirds to just €372 million ($363 million) – an even more paltry sum for the world's first company to surpass $3 trillion in market valuation. 

The three-comma invoice was submitted to the iPhone giant in 2020 by France's antitrust body, the Autorité de la Concurrence. Yesterday an appeals court reportedly tossed out the price-fixing charge in that legal spat as well as reducing the time scope of remaining charges and lowering the fine calculation rate. 

The case goes back to 2012. Apple was accused of conspiring with Tech Data and Ingram Micro to fix the prices of some Apple devices (that's the dropped charge) as well as abusing its power over resellers by limiting product supplies, thus pushing fans into Apple retail stores. 

Tech Data and Ingram Micro were also fined, and have since had their totals reduced as well.

Both sides plan to appeal the decision, with Apple and the Autorité both telling Bloomberg they were unhappy with the outcome. In Apple's case, it plans to file an appeal with France's highest court to completely nullify the fine, a spokesperson said.

The Autorité, on the other hand, isn't happy that the fine was reduced. "We would like to reaffirm our desire to guarantee the dissuasive nature of our penalties," an Autorité spokesperson said, adding that desire especially applies to market players at the level of Apple. 

Apple and France: Old familiar friends

Silicon Valley's tech giants are no strangers to courtroom drama, but Apple and France have a relationship on a whole different level: the Euro nation has hit the iMaker with multiple lawsuits and protests over the years. And as Twitter's security whistleblower Mudge pointed out, the French scare US companies more than Washington regulators.

Make no mistake: France still loves its iPhones, they just want Cook and Co to do better.

Along with the 2020 settlement, the case for which kicked off in 2012, French authorities have fined Apple €48.5 million for antitrust violations and €25 million for throttling older iPhones; the iGiant was forced to include repairability scores on its French websites; and in August the Gallic empire charged Apple with antitrust and anticompetition violations over App Store practices.

In addition to formal actions, the French people also took to the streets and Apple Stores in 2018 to demand the iPod inventor cough up its fair share of taxes in France, part of a pressure campaign that prompted the corporation to pay €500 million in back taxes owed to France. Separately, Apple was charged with stiffing the EU on its taxes to the tune of €13 billion in 2017.

Like many fines directed at big businesses, those penalties may seem large to the average person, but to a company the size of Apple it's a pittance. According to Tipalti, Apple earns – in profit alone – $105,116 a minute.

At that rate, Apple could pay off France's new lower fine with less than three days of profit, while the full €1.1 billion would take around a week. ®

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