A lot has happened in 2020, so you’ll be forgiven for not keeping a close eye on Australia’s plans to force Facebook and Google to pay local publishers for news.
What’s the latest? The Australian Government is going full speed ahead on passing laws that would force the tech giants to negotiate with Australian news companies.
After months of consultation and drafting, the government released its final version of the legislation last week.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg introduced the government’s news media bargaining legislation into Parliament with great aplomb.
— Political Alert (@political_alert) December 8, 2020
“This is a huge reform, this is a world first,” he said. “And the world is watching what happens here in Australia.”
The government had made some concessions to get to this point, as first reported by the Australian Financial Review.
The final legislation will also consider the value of the audience Facebook and Google brings to news publications, will exclude Google’s YouTube and Facebook’s Instagram, makes the ABC and SBS eligible, and the 28-day notice for algorithm changes was reduced to 14 days.
But underneath it all, the process remains essentially the same: Facebook and Google have the opportunity to negotiate a deal with individual media companies (including a standard offer that any publisher can take) or a group of companies.
Failing that, independent arbitrators selected by Australia’s news watchdog, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, will oversee a final negotiation process.
In a style of arbitration that lifts from American baseball player contract disputes, the tech companies and the media organisation will submit their proposed compensation.
And the arbitrator must choose one of the bids, unless both parties make ridiculous proposals.
Meanwhile, Facebook, Google and Australian publishers aren’t waiting for the legislation to pass to take action.
News Corp’s global CEO Robert Thomson says the company is in “advanced” negotiations with the tech companies to strike up a content licensing deal.
And Google is trying both the carrot and the stick: the company is trying to lock in a licensing deal with one of Australia’s biggest media companies while also floating the idea of penalising Australians by excluding them from updates to services, ostensibly to “avoid aspects of regulation”.
Make no mistake: the battle over paying for news content in Australia has only just begun.