Google has been fined £415,000 by a French court for offering Google Maps to businesses as a free service.

Bottin Cartographes successfully sued for the damages after claiming Google was abusing its dominant position and stifling competition against companies that charged for the service.

Google France and its parent company Google Inc. must now pay €500,000 in damages and interest to the French mapping company, plus a €15,000 fine.

A Paris court upheld a claim that Google’s strategy is to undercut competitors by temporarily swallowing the full cost of its maps service until it gains control of the market.

The lawyer for Bottin Cartographes, Jean-David Scemmama told AFP:

We proved the illegality of (Google’s) strategy to remove its competitors… the court recognised the unfair and abusive character of the methods used and allocated Bottin Cartographes all it claimed.” 

It is believed to be the first time Google has been convicted for its Google Maps application, which is now the most-used feature on Android phones behind voice and text.

Google France said it plans to appeal the decision and remains committed to providing a free mapping tool.

It seems astonishing that Google could be convicted for providing a free service – surely the same accusations could be levelled at Hotmail, Skype or any one of hundreds of free online services.

And the implicit suggestion is that Google will begin charging for its maps once it has crushed the competition.

In December Google’s VP of product management Marissa Mayer confirmed that it was looking to monetise its maps through check-ins and vouchers.

The company does have previous in France though – last year it was fined €100,000 for collecting private information while compiling its Street View service.

As Google keeps getting bigger and rolling out more services, it seems inevitable that it will end up in court again fighting further anti-competition or privacy charges.