The world watches as Australia moves to make Big Tech share royalties with news producers

Australia is pushing forward with legislation to support its news industry by forcing tech giants like Facebook and Google to compensate news organisations for the free news the platforms dispense at the cost of the producers.

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The move came after the Australian consumer watchdog, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, released a report late in 2018 stating Google and Facebook had become the “dominant gateways between news media businesses and audiences” which was stripping value for news businesses, taking away much of their advertising revenue and posing an existential threat to journalism.

The tech companies complained bitterly, saying their re-use of news outlets’ materials falls under ‘fair use’ regulations and waged a local PR campaign against the move.

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But the government pushed ahead and proposed laws to force tech companies to enter collective negotiations with news publishers to settle on terms and prices for using their news.

It also proposed that Facebook and Google bring publishers into the loop on proposed changes to algorithms that could affect their business.

Should no deal be agreed a third-party arbiter would be required under the proposed legislation – and this point, in particular, has brought the US Government into the picture, sending a submission to the Australian Senate stating that “legislation, to regulate the competitive positions of specific players in a fast-evolving digital market, to the clear detriment of two U.S. firms, may result in harmful outcomes.”

The US Chamber of Commerce even chipped in saying the proposal discriminates again US companies and violates trade agreements.

Read all the submissions here.

Since the release of the report, Google has been grumbling loudly and experimenting with blocking Australian news publishers from search results, prompting the Australian Government to publicly reprimand them and for the Australian Treasurer to say: “Digital giants should focus on paying for original content, not blocking it.”

And now Google has pulled out the big guns and threatened to remove its search engine entirely from Australia with Google Australia’s managing director telling a Senate hearing: “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.”

 Australia’s Prime Minister hit back saying such bullying tactics would not force him to yield.

It seems that it is a case not of ‘if’ this legislation passes but ‘when’. And in the aftermath, it is entirely possible that other countries seek to restore their struggling news industry with similar moves.

Google and Facebook can’t take their bat and ball form every game played across the world. But if they did the resultant vacuum would be a welcome chance to diversify and expand the stable of providers in the internet space.

With the journalism profession receding at an ever-increasing rate, it is only a matter of time before Google and Facebook only have self-interested commercial releases and fake news to republish on their platforms, so why are they sulking so terribly over what could sensibly be described the inevitable future for re-publication rights for big tech?

Let’s watch this space…