《TAIPEI TIMES》 Canberra landmark law has tech firms paying for news
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg speaks to reporters at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday last week. Photo: AP
/ AFP, SYDNEY
Australia’s parliament yesterday passed landmark legislation requiring global technology companies to pay for local news content, in a move closely watched around the world.
The law passed easily after a last-gasp deal that watered down binding rules that Facebook and Google had fiercely opposed in return for the tech companies agreeing to pay local media companies.
The law paves the way for Google and Facebook to invest tens of millions of US dollars in local content deals, and could prove a model for resolving the firms’ tussles with regulators worldwide.
Google is to pay for news content that appears on its “Showcase” product and Facebook is expected to pay providers who appear on its “News” product.
Regulators had accused the companies of draining cash away from traditional news organizations, while using their content for free.
Big tech firms had fiercely opposed the legislation from the outset, fearing it would threaten their business models.
The firms objected to rules that made negotiations with media companies mandatory and gave an independent Australian arbiter the right to impose a monetary settlement.
That prospect was dramatically reduced by last-minute government amendments.
“The code encourages parties to undertake commercial negotiations outside the code, and the government is pleased to see progress by both Google and more recently Facebook in reaching commercial arrangements with Australian news media businesses,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement.
Google was also eager to avoid creating a precedent that platforms should pay anyone for links, something that could make their flagship search engine unworkable.
Facebook — which is much less reliant on news content — had initially said that being forced to pay for news was simply not worth it and shut down access to news content for its Australian users.
The government said that the law, called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, would ensure that news businesses “are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism in Australia.”
Facebook and Google have two more months to reach further agreements that would stave off binding arbitration.
Critics of the law say that it punishes innovative companies and amounts to a money-grab by struggling — but politically connected — traditional media.
Tech insiders see the legislation as driven by News Corp, which dominates the local media landscape and has close ties with Australia’s conservative government.