The Australian government plans to introduce a law requiring Google and Facebook to pay local media in exchange for carrying Australian news content on their platforms.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) launched an investigation into the two companies in 2017 and worked with the federal government to draft legislation that is expected to become law soon; before this takes place, the Australian Parliament will also give an opinion.
To address bargaining power imbalances between Australian media and each of Google and Facebook, we've released a draft mandatory bargaining code to support news businesses to negotiate payment for their content. https://t.co/dwSMdS5Rc9 pic.twitter.com/Ua5fLc9Prf
— ACCC (@acccgovau) July 31, 2020
The draft states that Australian media could negotiate compensation with Facebook and Google separately or even together, and if the parties cannot agree, the government could ask for an arbitrator in the matter. Per the current draft, companies could also be fined $7.4 million if they breach the agreement. The bill additionally stipulates that technology companies must notify media in the event that search algorithms are changed to modify the ranking by which content appears.
Google has refused to accept the rules dictated by Canberra. Google said that if the law is enacted, it will withdraw its main search engine from the country, while Facebook is threatening to stop sharing Australian news on its platforms if the government demands money for it.
“Google and Facebook are likely to keep their promises, which will trigger a series of negative consequences not only for individual media but also for the Australian people,” Australian lawyer Hannah Marshall told Reuters.
The move by the companies would mean that Google’s search engine would become inaccessible to millions of Australians, and they would not be able to see and share local media articles by logging in to Facebook. Google’s Australian director Mel Silva said the new media law would be unsustainable and set a dangerous precedent if they had to pay for media-produced content.
“If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia,” he said.
We've reviewed the new legislation and want to make Google’s position on the Media Bargaining Code clear. There have been changes, but there are still elements that remain unworkable. We still believe there is a path to #AFairCode read more on our blog https://t.co/JpMaozEhhg
— melsilva (@melsilva) December 18, 2020
However, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the government will not allow itself to be threatened.
“Let me be clear: Australia itself is setting the rules for what can be done in the country. Parliament and government decide,” Morrison said.
Title image: Prime Minister Scott Morrison makes a public speech on the need for big tech companies to police their public platforms, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Canberra, Australia. Australian regulators have ruled out prosecuting TikTok over an apparent suicide video under new laws prohibiting some forms of violent online images, but the prime minister urged social media companies to take more responsibility for offensive content. (Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Office via AP)