Highlighting broader discussions and legal battles on the use and payment of news content by Google & Meta

Altamash Khan:

In February 2021, Google struck a three-year agreement with News Corp, the parent company of major news outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, to pay for the use of news content in Europe. This came after a French court ruled in 2020 that Google had to compensate French news publishers for their content under a new EU copyright law. Meanwhile, Facebook has received criticism from both news publishers and regulators regarding its treatment of news content on its platform. In February 2021, Facebook blocked all news content in Australia after a proposed law mandated that tech companies pay for news content. The move caused a backlash from Australian users and lawmakers, and Facebook ultimately came to an agreement with the Australian government to pay for news content. In the United States, lawmakers have been contemplating new regulations that would require tech companies to pay for news content. In March 2021, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the “Journalism Competition and Preservation Act,” a bill that would give news publishers the right to collectively negotiate with tech companies over the use of their content. The bill had support from News Corp, Facebook, and other entities.

Similarly in Canada, the proposed legislation, Bill C-18 or the Online News Act, may lead to new agreements between Google and Meta and Canadian news organizations, potentially giving the tech giants greater influence over the country’s news media. The bill would require digital platforms, particularly those with significant bargaining power such as Google and Meta, to negotiate compensation with Canadian news outlets for the use of their content. This applies to all markets, including non-profit and for-profit sectors, local and regional markets, anglophone and francophone communities, official language minority communities, racialized communities, and Indigenous news outlets.

Google and Meta have tested and threatened the option of stopping the availability of news content in Canada, but the other alternative is to reach agreements with news organizations. There are various types of agreements that can exist between news organizations and online platforms. The first type is the private agreements that are already in place between news organizations and Google and Meta, which are not disclosed to the public. The second type of agreement would be established if C-18 passes, and Google and Meta continue to make news available in Canada. This would create a new set of agreements between these platforms and news organizations that don’t already have deals with them. This is viewed as the primary benefit of the proposed legislation since it offers funding opportunities to organizations that were previously excluded. The third type of agreement, which I will refer to as side agreements, deals with matters beyond paying for content. For example, it’s possible for Meta or Google to offer compensation, such as training, technical assistance, technology or discounts on technology licensing, that could lead to more extensive integration of news organizations with digital platform data and technologies.

On the contrary, During a parliamentary committee hearing held the last year, Colin McKay, who heads Google Canada’s public policy and government relations, argued that the proposed Online News Act in Canada has flaws and won’t solve the issues faced by struggling news organizations. While Google Canada supports the sustainability of Canadian journalism, McKay expressed that the proposed legislation, which would mandate that online platforms compensate Canadian news organizations for using their content, will not achieve the government’s intended goals.

However, experts intend that the Online News Act will keep agreements between online platforms and news organizations private. This means that the public will not have access to the details of these agreements, including any side agreements, except for the information that the parties choose to disclose. While the CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) and an independent auditor will have some oversight, it is unlikely that they will provide in-depth insight into the nature of these arrangements and integrations. The act may result in further integration between digital platforms and newsrooms, which could have significant implications for the Canadian media landscape. Still, these changes will likely happen behind closed doors and may not be positive. Viewing the global scenarios and the uproar on the existing crisis, it is likely to reach us soon. We need to be ready for the required mechanism in place and the proper channelization of the searing challenge within the near future.

About the author