Australia Passes Amended ‘Media Bargaining Law’

The Australian Parliament has passed its controversial ‘media bargaining law’, that has been fiercely opposed by tech giants Google and Facebook, as well as the father of the Internet Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

The passing of the law, including changes agreed with Facebook, means that Australia has become the first country in the world where a government arbitrator can set prices tech firms must pay for local news and content.

Canada and the United Kingdom are reportedly looking to follow Australia’s lead, but Facebook is now reportedly looking to sign media deals in Canada, as it has already done in the US and United Kingdom.

Law passed

“The code will ensure news media businesses are fairly remunerated for the content they generate, helping to sustain public interest journalism,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher was quoted by Reuters as saying in a joint statement.

Representatives of both Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

The new Australian law for the first time legally sets a government arbitrator in charge of pricing for online content, if agreement cannot be reached.

Its progress will be closely watched globally.

Tech opposition

Facebook last September bluntly said this was a bad piece of legislation and warned Aussie users it would prevent them sharing local and international news on its platforms (including Instagram), if Australia pressed ahead with this change.

Google last month warned the Australian government that it could remove its search engine from Australia over the matter.

The Australian government however took no notice, and pressed ahead.

As a result, Facebook last week blocked Australian users sharing local and international news on its platforms.

This triggered an outcry in certain quarters after charities, businesses and even certain Australian government websites found themselves blocked from sharing developments on Facebook.

After the blackout, the Australian prime minister Scott Morrison invited Facebook to “constructively engage” with his government.

Government changes

Facebook earlier this week then allowed Australians to once again share local and international news on its platforms (including Instagram), after the Australian government carried out a last minute u-turn and agreed to change parts of its ‘media bargaining law’, with four amendments to the legislation

Both sides claimed victory however.

Facebook this week revealed it is investing $1 billion in the news industry, and is it reported that several large Australian media companies are apparently in talks with the social network.

Last month, Facebook announced UK deals with The Guardian, Telegraph Media Group, Financial Times, Daily Mail Group, Sky News and many more, to pay for content in its Facebook News product in the UK.

Google of course is pressing ahead with its own agreements with local publishers, as part of its ‘News Showcase’ scheme.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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