Wrangle between news media and Big Tech hits new levels  

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Facebook has banned publishers an users in Australia from posting it sharing news content as the Australian government prepares to pass laws that will require social media companies to pay news publishers for sharing using content on their platforms.

Brendon Thorne | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Weeks after the furor between Facebook and the Australian government, the ripple effects are being felt across the world as other governments consider similar legislation.

Facebook had quarreled with the Australian government over its News Media Bargaining Code and at one point instituted a news blackout in the country.

All the while Google struck a deal with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to feature content on its Google News Showcase that included an ad revenue sharing agreement, despite the tension between the two companies.

The Australian incident, and its reverberations, can be heard across the world as other nations contemplate forcing tech firms to pay for news content.

“I think the Australia case’s main contribution was that it showed how powerful Facebook was and that it could disrupt the flow of news at a country level, especially for a country as large as Australia,” Jennifer Grygiel, an assistant professor of communications at Syracuse University, told CNBC.

“I think ultimately there will be lots of countries looking at how to support news publishers and we’ll see various proposals coming forward.”

Proponents argue that the measures will assist in financing struggling media organizations while also helping legitimate news outlets during the age of disinformation.

European moves

Most notably in France, Google reached an accord with Alliance de la Presse d’Information Generale, a group representing French publishers, including Le Monde and Le Figaro. The deal will see Google negotiate with the group’s members on compensation after France’s competition authority ruled that the tech giant must pay for the content it uses.

“We want to discuss with Google what is the best way to comply with what the French competition authority will say,” Pierre Petillault, director of Alliance de la Presse d’Information Generale, said.

Petillault told CNBC that the organization is negotiating with Facebook and will be speaking to Microsoft.

The French affair has been facilitated by the EU’s copyright directive — which France has transposed into national law — that introduced new “neighboring rights” for publishers to seek compensation for their content being used.

Prior to that, Spain attempted to pass its own set of regulations. That ultimately led to Google pulling the plug on Google News in the country in 2014. Reuters reported in February that Google was now negotiating with news publishers in the country.

Canada’s shot

The influence of Australia and Europe is starting to be felt in North America too. Canada’s Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has committed to legislation that would force Google and Facebook to pay for news on their platforms.

The proposal has the backing of media industry representative group News Media Canada. 

“We have been lobbying very strongly for legislation. We believe that the Australian model is the most effective way of moving forward,” Chief Executive John Hinds told CNBC.

“We’re very keen on collective industry wide negotiations with the tech platforms because it allows the smaller players to have a voice at the table.”

A spokesperson for Guilbeault did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the Canadian proposals but said the company would engage with governments and stakeholders on these issues.

“Facebook welcomes regulation and stands ready to work with Canadian policymakers to develop and pass the necessary legislation,” Facebook said in a statement.

Playbook

Rob Nicholls, an associate professor of regulation and governance at the University of New South Wales, said the Australian debate has panned out relatively well for publishers.

As well as the notable Google-News Corp. deal, other agreements have followed with Seven West Media inking a deal with Google and it’s now in talks with Facebook.

“It’s worked out well for the media organizations, it’s still got that feel of Google and Facebook being dragged screaming and kicking,” Nicholls told CNBC.

Nicholls said that future proposals in other countries now have different avenues to pursue, such as the Australian model that is rooted in competition, or the European approach that’s stimulated by copyright law.

He said that the French approach to copyright coupled with the ruling from the competition authority is the most robust.

Now that some laws are in place and tech companies have signed initial deals, there are playbooks that other governments can look at in crafting their own regulation.

“They have the information on what you (tech companies) did in France, the Australians are quite happy to share information as to what happened there. ‘We want what they got’,” Nicholls added.

 

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