Pay for News Publishers: Canada Moves to Copy Australia As Coalition Against Facebook, Google Looms

Pay for News Publishers: Canada Moves to Copy Australia As Coalition Against Facebook, Google Looms

Following the step of Australia, Canadian government said on Thursday it will enact a law that will force Facebook to pay publishers for their content even if it will end in the social media platform shutting down its services in Canada like it did in Australia.

Australia proposed a legislation that will make Facebook and Google pay for news contents that provide links to their platforms. The new legislation means Facebook and Google will have to bargain with newsrooms either individually or collectively – and will have to enter arbitration if the parties can’t reach an agreement within three months.

In response to Australia’s proposed new Media Bargaining law, Facebook said it will restrict publishers and people in Australia from sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on its platform.

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault, who is leading the charge to craft the bill, said Facebook made the wrong choice cutting off news services in Australia, and that wouldn’t deter Ottawa from pursuing Australia’s line of action.

“Canada is at the forefront of this battle … we are really among the first group of countries around the world that are doing this,” he said.

Recently, governments and media organizations are confronting Facebook and Google for using their monopolies to rake in billions of dollars in ad revenue while paying little to publishers who provide the contents their use to serve the ads.

The confrontation has been fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic which saw Google halve AdSense earnings, further depleting the already poor revenue of news publishers.

In 2019, the European Union enacted Copyright Laws that require search engines and social media platforms to share revenue with publishers if their contents are displayed. The increasing push by these countries to protect media outlets from Google and Facebook’s rip-offs is believed to be the reason Google came up with the News Showcase idea, a $1 billion program designed to compensate publishers for their contents.

France was the first country in Europe to implement the EU Copyright Laws by getting Google to reach a compensation agreement with French publishers.

Guilbeault said Canada may adopt either the French or Australian option.

“We are working to see which model would be the most appropriate,” he said, adding that he spoke to his French, German, Australian and Finish counterparts last week about working together on ensuring fair compensation for web content.

Facebook was defiant with Australia; the social media giant said news makes up less than 4% of the content people see in their News Feed in Australia, and generated only about AU $407 million last year, which makes business gain from news in the country minimal.

But with the momentum garnering to involve more countries, the social media app may be facing a war it did not see coming.

“I suspect that soon we will have five, 10, 15 countries adopting similar rules … is Facebook going to cut ties with Germany, with France?” Guilbeault asked, adding that at some point, Facebook’s approach would become “totally unacceptable.”

Reuters reported a University of Toronto professor, Megan Boler, who specializes in social media, saying that Facebook’s action [in Australia] marked a turning point which would require a common international approach.

“We could actually see a coalition, a united front against this monopoly, which could be very powerful,” she said.

While Facebook appears lax in addressing the pay-for-news controversy, Google is putting foot forward. The web search giant has signed agreements with about 500 media outlets across more than 12 countries, including Australia, and it said to be in talks with Canadian news organizations.

Despite these efforts, Guilbeault said Google will also be governed by the Canadian new law, as Ottawa seeks a fair, transparent and predictable approach.

However, Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said following the Australian model may mean loss to both Facebook and Canada, and the North American country should aspire to Google’s approach.

“If we follow the Australian model … we’ll find ourself in much the same spot,” he said. “Everybody loses. The media organizations lose … Facebook loses.”

Canada is expected to enact the News Law in coming months and EU member states are expected to implement the EU Copyright Law before its June 7 deadline, which will see more countries towing the path of Australia or France.

With this mounting pressure, Facebook, who is already at crossroads with regulators around the world, and Apple for restricting its access to iPhone users private data, will have a “coalition of countries against Facebook” challenge to deal with.

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