By Daniel Michaels and Sam Schechner
BRUSSELS -- Australia's fight with Facebook Inc. over media
content is focusing attention on European efforts to force tech
giants to pay more for news, as European politicians urge national
governments to quickly enact new legislation that would strengthen
the hand of news organizations in their battle with internet
European Union countries face a June deadline to adopt national
versions of a bloc-wide law, dubbed the Copyright Directive, that
aims to improve media producers' bargaining position against tech
powerhouses including Facebook and Alphabet Inc.'s Google. Under
the law, passed in 2019, news publishers can demand payment for
reuse of their content.
Australia on Thursday passed a law that tackles many of the same
issues, terms of which recently prompted Facebook to remove news
from its platform in the country for five days before reversing
course after winning some changes from the government.
Both laws stem from the same debate: what, if anything, should
publishers be paid when their news is available via tech
Publishers argue that news is a significant attraction for
services like Google, and that they should receive a share of the
companies' revenue. The tech companies, and tech advocates, respond
that they already boost the media companies' revenue by sending
them tens of billions of website visits monthly, and that free
linking is the internet's lifeblood.
Senior EU officials have said Facebook's move in Australia shows
that tech platforms wield too much power against the press and
other media. The episode shows that "we just cannot leave
decisions, which have a huge impact on our democracies, to computer
programs without any human supervision or to the board rooms in
Silicon Valley," said European Commission President Ursula von der
Leyen at the Munich Security Conference last week.
EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton on Monday urged member
countries to quickly pass national versions of the copyright law to
strengthen their news publishers' right to compensation from tech
"Google and Facebook are excellent at dividing publishers and
playing them off against each other," said Axel Voss, a
center-right German member of the European Parliament who oversaw
the copyright law's adoption. Mr. Voss said Europe's new law allows
news-content producers to unite in negotiating licensing revenues
for their content -- and could even do so across borders within the
Nick Clegg, Facebook's vice president of global affairs, said in
a blog post Wednesday that the Australian law stems from a
misunderstanding of its relationship with media companies, which
choose to post their content on social media. Mr. Clegg
acknowledged that the internet has disrupted the news business, and
said the company plans to spend $1 billion in the next three years
to support it.
"But a new settlement needs to be based on the facts of how
value is derived from news online, not an upside-down portrayal of
how news and information flows on the internet," he wrote.
News Corp, the parent of The Wall Street Journal, has a
commercial agreement to supply news through Facebook.
"We have funded journalism for many years," said Google on its
European Twitter account Monday. The company has said it provides
24 billion visits to publisher sites world-wide each month, and
that it also has hundreds of partnerships with news publishers.
Google has signed paid licensing deals with more than 500
publishers in over a dozen countries, including Germany, the U.K.
and Australia, for a product called News Showcase.
The battle in Australia over payments to news media outlets is
the latest example of a topic that has arisen globally for more
than a decade.
In France, the only country that has implemented the new EU law,
Google in November signed licensing agreements for News Showcase
with several publications, including Le Monde. The agreements came
after a French court reaffirmed an order from the country's
antitrust regulator that Google must negotiate.
French publications had complained to the regulator after Google
said it would display only headlines in news search results in
France, as is permitted under the new copyright law, unless a
publication granted rights to show longer excerpts for free.
Australia's legislation in some ways goes beyond that in Europe,
by compelling tech companies and news publishers to submit to
binding arbitration if they can't agree on payment terms.
Google also initially opposed the legislation, at one time
threatening to shut down its search engine in Australia. Recently,
though, it opted instead to sign content deals with a number of
publishers -- including News Corp, which also owns newspapers in
News Corp has supported the Australian and EU laws.
Some European officials expressed solidarity with Australia.
"I really find it very damaging that a platform behaves this way
to protest against the law of a country. We must support Australia
in this fight," said Mr. Breton, who is French, on Monday. "The
European solution is the Copyright Directive, which provides the
press with a new right to obtain a more fair and equitable share of
the profit," he said.
Some politicians and analysts say Facebook's hardball tactics
could show Europe must get even tougher.
"Rules protecting national publishers must be broadened
[because] the economic sustainability of numerous companies,
thousands of jobs, and national and European digital sovereignty
are at stake," said Federico Mollicone, an Italian member of
parliament for Brothers of Italy, a leading opposition party.
Some legal analysts say Australia's new legislation, based on
competition law, has sharper teeth than Europe's copyright law.
Martin Kretschmer, a professor of intellectual property law at the
University of Glasgow, said copyright law is the wrong tool to
protect publishers because it shouldn't prevent news content from
being linked to or quoted.
"To tackle this issue, you need to shift market power. Stronger
interventions may be needed, such as competition law," said Mr.
Kretschmer. "The Copyright Directive is already yesterday's
Mr. Voss said the law hasn't really been tested yet because only
France has put it to use.
"We thought it would be enough" to protect publishers, Mr. Voss
said, but if it doesn't prove sufficient, "we may have to sharpen
Eric Sylvers in Milan contributed to this article.
Write to Daniel Michaels at email@example.com and Sam
Schechner at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 25, 2021 09:57 ET (14:57 GMT)
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