Ottawa could follow Australia in making Google pay for news content

Ottawa is looking at legislative changes similar to those in Australia, in a bid to make tech giants including Google and Facebook pay for news content.

Tech analyst and director at Info-Tech Research Group Carmi Levy says that media organizations around the world have been „complaining for years that Google basically scrapes or scoops their content“ and uses it on their platform and services without paying for it.

„Journalists, they are capturing content, it costs money to do that, to produce news coverage… and then they’re not getting any revenue back from it and even worse, Google then generates advertising on top of that directing even more revenues away from them,“ Levy told CTV’s Your Morning from London, Ont.

„Basically, media has been starving, Google’s been getting rich off the fat of the land and media organizations want a better deal,“ he said Monday.

Levy says this „Wild West“ internet business model is under scrutiny by various regulatory bodies around the world, including in Canada.

Levy explained that officials in Australia ordered an inquiry into Google 18 months ago, to come up with a framework that allows the tech giant to operate as it normally would, but also „allows media organizations to be paid for creating the content that Google makes money off of.“

„Canadian officials are watching what’s happening in Australia very closely. They’re speaking to Australian officials later this month, they’re actually going to meet with them as well as French officials who are doing the same thing; trying to figure out what framework would work here,“ Levy said.

Levy said new legislation like this in Canada „would govern how media organizations negotiate with companies“ such as Google and Facebook in terms of „balancing the needs of both” and also ensuring that the public continues to have access to “absolutely critical information.“

„Imagine if we didn’t have news coverage because the economic model did not work. That’s what Canadian officials are working on now,“ Levy said.

In recent weeks, Google has since threatened to make its search engine unavailable in Australia if the government goes ahead with plans to make tech giants pay for news content.

Google said in an open letter to Australians in August 2020 that the country’s new tech regulations could „undermine the benefits of the internet for millions of Australians.“

„The ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to Search. This code creates an unreasonable and unmanageable financial and operational risk to our business. If the Code were to become law in its current form, we would have no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,“ the letter read in part.

Levy said this is not the first time Google has threatened to use its „nuclear option.“

“Many times before they’ve threatened to pull their Google News Service out of Europe. They actually did so in Spain in 2014. So this is a company that makes a whole lot of threats, sometimes they follow through on them,” he said.

However, Levy says it is possible for society to function without Facebook or Google and its various other services. It just takes a bit more work finding alternatives, according to Levy.

He added that Microsoft has been working with Australian officials about what to do if Google does in fact „go dark“ in the country, offering its Bing search service as a replacement.

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