The online community are closely watching developments in Australia, after the government there announced it will introduce landmark legislation next week.

Senior officials have said its world first rule change will be considered by the Australia Parliament next week. The bill, if it becomes law, will legally force tech firms to pay local publishers and broadcasters for news and other content they utilise, or even link to, on their platforms.

If the parties cannot reach an agreement, a government-appointed panel will decide on the price.

Content bill

Australia’s bill is being strongly opposed by Google and Facebook, despite Australia touting the incoming law as a way to protect independent journalism.

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

A senior Google executive last month warned the Australian government that Google could remove its search engine from Australia altogether, over the matter.

Yet despite fierce opposition from Google and Facebook, Australia is pressing ahead.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said he had held a meeting with Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and said the meeting was ‘constructive’.

Microsoft has already sought to exploit a potential Google withdraw from Australia and told local officials that its Bing search engine was ready to step in, to provide its online search engine for Australian citizens.

News Showcase

In an effort to circumvent the looming Australian action, Google last week launched its delayed News Showcase scheme in Australia, after Google signed its own content deals with local publishers.

Google has also signed other deals in different markets.

Last month for example, Google and a French publishers’ lobby agreed a copyright framework under which the US tech giant will pay news publishers for content online.

Pressing ahead

Despite these agreements, Australia is pressing ahead with its legislation, after it had been reviewed by an Australian Senate committee.

“The bill will now be considered by the parliament from the week commencing 15 February 2021,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Reuters in an emailed statement.

The legislation is being closely watched around the world.

With bipartisan support, it could come into law this month, despite Google having suggested some amendments.

Lucinda Longcroft, director of government affairs and public Policy for Google in Australia and New Zealand, reportedly said the company had proposed amendments to a Senate enquiry but they were rejected.

Nevertheless, the company still hoped to discuss the law with members of parliament.

“We look forward to engaging with policymakers through the parliamentary process to address our concerns and achieve a code that works for everyone – publishers, digital platforms, and Australian businesses and users,” Longcroft said in an emailed statement.

Facebook did not immediately respond to requests for comment when contacted by Reuters.

It remains to be seen what action Google will take, if it deems the new legislation is too onerous.

It should be remembered Google had already shut down its Google News service altogether in Spain in 2014, when Spain required news aggregators (such as Google) to pay for a license to use news content.

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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