10 December 2020CopyrightRory O'Neill

Australia to make Google, Facebook pay for news

Australia is preparing to introduce a landmark law making Facebook and Google pay news publishers for news content.

The proposed legislation, tabled in parliament yesterday, December 9, would require tech companies to negotiate with publishers to agree royalties for content that appears on their platforms.

If they can’t agree a deal, an arbiter will be appointed to set the rate of remuneration. And if tech companies refuse to negotiate, they could be liable to pay a fine of up to 10% of their annual Australian turnover.

“This is a huge reform, this is a world first, and the world is watching what happens here in Australia,” said Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

“Our legislation will help ensure that the rules of the digital world mirror the rules of the physical world,” the finance minister added.

Google and Facebook have long opposed laws requiring them to pay for news content. Google lobbied strongly against the EU Copyright Directive and its so-called “snippet tax”, which came into force last year.

The EU law requires platforms to pay publishers for excerpts or “snippets” of news stories that appear in search results.

Google has come under fire for its workaround to the law—instead of paying publishers for snippets, Google will only display headlines unless the publishers themselves voluntarily opt-in.

In Australia, the law has received the backing of News Corp Australia, which has campaigned for stronger rules on how tech platforms use news content.

But both Facebook and Google have signalled their opposition. Earlier this year, Facebook suggested it could stop users from sharing news, in response to an earlier draft of the law.

“This is not our first choice—it is our last. But it is the only way to protect against an outcome that defies logic and will hurt, not help, the long-term vibrancy of Australia’s news and media sector,” said Will Easton, managing director of Facebook Australia & New Zealand.

Earlier this month, Facebook announced it would be paying out millions of pounds to license news stories from UK publishers. The articles will be hosted in a separate news section on the platform, which is expected to launch in the new year.

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