Feds try to avoid Australian pitfalls in online news bill

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OTTAWA – The Canadian government says it has learned from the Australian experience when it comes to requiring online giants to pay news outlets to use their journalism, and crafted its bill to avoid the pitfalls of the country.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez on Tuesday introduced a bill inspired by an Australian law requiring digital platforms such as Google to pay Canadian media for the reuse of their journalism.

The digital giants will have six months to negotiate private agreements to compensate Canadian media or be forced to reach an agreement, according to the terms of the bill.

Tech giants could face fines of up to $15 million a day if they fail to comply.

The Australian law provoked a backlash last year, including from Facebook, which protested by blocking news on its platform across Australia.

The social media platform has lifted a ban on Australians watching and sharing news after reaching an agreement with the country’s government.

An official from Rodriguez’s heritage department, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss non-public matters, said the government had studied the Australian bill and had spoken to Australian officials on several occasions. .

The heritage official said that, although using Australian law as a model, the government is taking a more passive approach with Bill C-18, as it is known in Parliament.

Canada’s bill, according to government officials, will give ministers less power than in Australia, with more decisions given to an independent regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

They say Canada’s bill makes it clear that digital companies will have the freedom to enter into private agreements with newspapers and other media, which must meet established criteria.

The Canadian bill also more clearly defines terms – such as the type of platforms and media to which the law will apply – to leave less room for ambiguity and make the system more transparent than in Australia, said heritage manager.

But experts say Canada’s bill is heavier in some ways and will force platforms to also pay for broadcast news content, unlike Australia.

Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, predicts that Meta, owner of Facebook and Instagram, and Google will fiercely resist efforts to do so. pay for links to news sites published on their platforms.

He suggested that if a price tag is attached to internet links, online companies could demand that news platforms pay them for posting links to their journalism – not the other way around.

“The bill requires mandatory payments for links, but links shouldn’t be compensable at all,” he said. “It hurts the dissemination of information in Canada.

Geist said the bill incentivizes news outlets to post more and more links on Facebook because they could get more compensation for doing so.

He said it could also give digital giants power over how media organizations spend their money.

The Canadian bill states that a portion of the compensation should be used to support the production of local, regional and national news, as well as Indigenous and racialized content. Geist said platforms could insist on a set proportion of funds supporting those goals.

Meta and Google said they were still reviewing the bill and declined to comment.

Meta said on Tuesday that links to news articles and previews make up just 4% of what people see on their Facebook feed, and that the company has committed $18 million over the past seven years to programs. and media partnerships in Canada.

In launching the bill, Rodriguez said it would strengthen Canada’s news industry which is at risk with 451 news outlets having closed since 2008.

At least a third of jobs in Canadian journalism have disappeared since 2010, he added.

Meanwhile, billions of advertising dollars have migrated from traditional news sources to technology platforms.

Online advertising revenue hit $9.7 billion in 2020, with Google and Facebook taking 80%, the heritage department said.

The bill will also strengthen the bargaining power of the media and correct a market imbalance. This will allow news outlets large and small to team up to bargain collectively with digital giants for compensation.

If they fail to reach an agreement within six months, the tech platforms would be forced into media mediation and, if that doesn’t work, binding arbitration.

The bill has been welcomed by News Media Canada, which represents more than 500 print and digital titles across Canada, saying it “levels the playing field and gives Canada’s news publishers a fair chance and does not require additional taxpayer funds”.

“This approach has been a resounding success in Australia, where publishers big and small are signing meaningful content licensing deals,” Jamie Irving, president of News Media Canada, said Tuesday.

“Reliable information is needed more today than ever before, and real news reported by real journalists costs real money.”

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on April 6, 2022.

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Meta funds a scholarship that supports journalism positions at The Canadian Press.

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