Australia and France Seek Changes to Big Tech News Model

Last summer, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission put together a 623-page report that pointed to Facebook and Google as the reason for the precipitous decline in local news and public policy reporting. Commission chair Rod Sims, who wrote the report, stated that, “global tech companies are not beyond national laws, especially when there is so much at stake.” He and French regulator Isabelle de Silva are challenging those two tech behemoths for carrying news organizations’ content without paying them.

The New York Times reports that, “last month, as the coronavirus put hundreds of publishers out of business around the world, the Australian government instructed Sims to force the platforms to negotiate payments with newspaper publishers … the first country to do so.” “The digital platforms need media generally, but not any particular media company, so there is an acute bargaining imbalance in favor of the platforms,” he said. “This creates a significant market failure which harms journalism and so, society.”

In France, de Silva, president of the French Competition Authority, is “enforcing a European Commission change to copyright law that will soon take effect across the continent.”

Facebook responded to the pressure by starting a news tab last October, “writing checks in the seven figures to publishers in exchange for three-year licensing deals.” Google, meanwhile, “has taken a patronizing approach to publishers, fronted by a gray-bearded former Salon executive, Richard Gingras, who has for years delivered the same set of talking points to increasingly irate news executives about the nature of truth and the true value of the Internet — as though the year was still 2003.” Its tack has been to “hand out grants for experimental journalism projects built around Google’s technology.”

NYT notes that, with regard to these grants, “the company is most generous when it feels most threatened by regulation.” Google “maintains that it delivers value to publishers by driving them traffic,” but, says NYT, “the politics have changed drastically in the last few years, and Google’s proud defiance and lectures about technology now come across as a blend of arrogance and naïveté.”

Facebook is now “negotiating with French publishers to introduce a version of the program it rolled out in the United States.” Google attempted in France what they had successfully done in Spain in 2014: removing Google News from search results. But de Silva responded, “this is not really an avenue that is open to them because in our decision we asked them to maintain the content is as it is today.”

Google is now reportedly “in discussions with some publishers in the United States and France to pay directly to ‘feature full articles’ on Google itself, without having to click a link.” De Silva said that “Google has until August ‘to negotiate in good faith’ with publishers to pay for content.” In Australia, Sims “is expected to deliver a draft code, including a system for valuing content, by July.”

NYT notes that, “players on all sides predict the Australian and French decisions will set global precedents.” News Media Alliance general counsel Danielle Coffey, whose organization represents U.S. newspapers, said, “it’s kind of neat watching the dominoes fall.”