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Australia: Google, Facebook to pay for news content?

April 20, 2020

Australia has announced plans to force Google and Facebook to pay media outlets for their content, which would make it the first administration to make the tech giants share lucrative advertising revenues with traditional media.

According to Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s Treasurer, a mandatory code of conduct, set to be unveiled by July and enacted soon after, will require the US-based firms to reimburse Australian media companies for using their news and other content.

“It is about holding these tech titans to account, about ensuring genuine competition. It is about delivering a level playing field,” he declared. “It is about keeping jobs in journalism and it is about ensuring a fair outcome for all.”

In 2019, France became the first European state to implement an EU copyright directive that requires payment for reproduced news content, but Google has so far refused to pay and instead said it would no longer display French reports.

Australia’s plans to implement a mandatory code follow an 18-month inquiry into the power of digital platforms by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which recommended an overhaul of existing regulations.

According to Frydenberg, implementation of the measures follow the failure of discussions on a voluntary code, with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on advertising revenues hastening the need for action. “We understand the challenge that we face,” he said. “This is a big mountain to climb. These are big companies that we are dealing with, but there is also so much at stake, so we’re prepared for this fight.”

“We believe that strong innovation and more transparency around the distribution of news content is critical to building a sustainable news ecosystem,” commented Will Easton, managing director, Facebook Australia and New Zealand, who expressed the company’s disappointment that the government had acted ahead of an agreed May deadline to produce the voluntary code.

A Google spokesperson said the company had participated in the voluntary process and would continue to engage with both publishers and the ACCC. “We’ve worked for many years to be a collaborative partner to the news industry, helping them grow their businesses through ads and subscription services and increase audiences by driving valuable traffic,” she said.

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