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Australia to force Google, Facebook to pay for news content

April 20, 2020

Australia plans to force Google and Facebook to pay when they recycle local media content. Canberra says its lever will be fair competition rules rather than Europe's focus on copyright usage.

Finger about to touch facebook logo on a smartphone screen
Image: Imago Images/ZUMA Press

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg switched tack Monday in his long campaign to force digital giants to pay: He declared there had been 'no meaningful progress' at voluntary talks and draft rules would be worked out by late July.

"These are big companies that we are dealing with, but there is so much at stake, so we're prepared for this fight," said Frydenberg, referring to Australian media outlets at the time of an advertising slump exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said Canberra would take a different approach compared to Europe, by requiring shared earnings via a mandatory competition law rather than chasing copyright fees for items reused online.

Facebook and Google's parent Alphabet said they had been working "hard" and "constructively" to negotiate voluntary shares of content earnings since last year.

Read more: Wikipedia founder laments developments in local press worldwide

Voluntary model scrapped

Frydenberg on Monday said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) had abandoned a model for a voluntary code to take effect by November.

Instead, the ACCC would develop a mandatory code of conduct between Australian media outlets and international digital platforms by late July.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims told Australia's ABC public broadcaster that it would be "hard for Google and Facebook just to say we won't have any contact with news media at all."

Around 10% of online search results elicited media stories, said Sims.

Google was netting 47% of online advertising spending, excluding classified ads, said Frydenberg. Facebook was earning 24%, he added, referring to Australia.

Read more: Coronavirus: A Magic moment for social media?

Facebook insists it tried hard

Will Easton, Facebook's manager for Australia and New Zealand, said: "We've invested millions of dollars to support Australian publishers through content arrangements, partnerships and training for the industry."

"We've been working hard to meet their agreed deadline," Easton added.

A Google spokesman, cited by Reuters, said: "We have sought to work constructively with industry, the ACCC and government to develop a code of conduct, and we will continue to do so in the revised process."

Media support package planned

Last week, Australia's federal government unveiled a support package for local media outlets.

Pending the new code, public interest news gathering operations are to get A$50 million (€29 million, US$31.8 million)

Support for commercial television and radio broadcasters would include a 12-month waiver of frequency spectrum taxes.

ipj/rc (Reuters, dpa, AP)

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