In a landmark compromise, Australia’s government has made Google, the world’s most powerful search engine, come to the table to make a deal.
“Google has been in a highly publicized spat with the Australian government in recent months over a bill — the News Media Bargaining Code — that would force Google to pay news publishers for stories that surface in Google Search inquiries,” CNET summarized Feb. 16. “The conflict almost turned into a confrontation,” but eventually Google had to take “a more conciliatory approach” after a senate committee recommended the bill become an official law.
If the News Media Bargaining Code bill becomes law, it “would give Google and Facebook 90 days to reach licensing agreements with qualifying Australian publishers for the news content that appears on Google’s search and Facebook’s feed.” If no bargain is made, Google may face severe consequences as “government-appointed arbitrators would hand down a binding decision on how much, and how, the tech titans paid.”
“The deals are big news for Australia’s large publishers” who stand to profit, CNET explained. But it’s “arguably bigger news for Google, which could be forced to ink similar licensing agreements with media companies around the world.” A member of European Parliament reportedly told CNET last week that he hopes to establish similar laws in his own region, and a Canadian minister has allegedly cited Australia’s legislation as a proof-of-concept to push Google and Facebook into paying publishers in his own country.
Vanderbilt University professor of law Daniel Gervais illustrated that the stakes are incredibly high: “If Australia succeeds in passing the law and showing that it works, it could be a precedent for others,” CNET relayed, “for Canada, New Zealand and perhaps others.”
Even Microsoft leadership has praised the legislation.
“Australia’s proposal will reduce the bargaining imbalance that currently favors tech gatekeepers and will help increase opportunities for independent journalism,” Microsoft President Brad Smith commented in a Feb 11 blog. He suggested that this News Media Bargaining Code legislation is “part of what’s needed for technology, journalism and American democracy itself.”
Australia’s government has been locking horns with Big Tech over a variety of issues in recent months.
Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack accused Big Tech of “censorship” following the U.S. Capitol riot. “There’s been a lot of people who have said and done a lot of things on Twitter previously that haven’t received that sort of condemnation or indeed censorship. But I’m not one who believes in that sort of censorship,” McCormack said. McCormack is part of a growing phenomenon of international leaders condemning Big Tech censorship.
Australia has also considered cracking down on Big Tech’s dominance in online advertising. “An Australian regulator is considering letting internet users choose what personal data companies like Google share with advertisers, as part of the country’s attempts to shatter the dominance of tech titans,” Reuters reported Jan. 27. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. (ACCC) also proposed the tactic of “limiting the internet giants’ ability to access users’ online histories to cross-sell products.”
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