SYDNEY, KOMPAS.com – A draft law that will force Big Tech companies to pay for news content was introduced in Australia on Friday.
The draft law is one of the most aggressive measures by any government to curb the massive power of American Big Tech giants such as Google and Facebook.
Failure to comply can have Big Tech firms paying a huge fine.
Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the "mandatory code of conduct" that will manage relations between Big Tech firms and the struggling news industry.
This comes after 18 months of failed negotiations between the two sides.
In addition to payment for content, the code covers issues like access to user data and transparency around the algorithms used to rank content in the platforms' news feeds and search results.
"Nothing less than the future of the Australian media landscape is at stake with these changes," Frydenberg said, calling the legislation a "world-leading regulatory framework".
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He said legislation implementing the code would be introduced to parliament in the coming weeks after a final round of consultations — and would include "substantial penalties" that could cost the tech companies hundreds of millions of dollars.
While the code could eventually apply to any digital platform, Frydenberg said it would initially focus on Facebook and Google, two of the world's richest and most powerful companies.
Google responded quickly, saying it was "deeply disappointed" with the proposal.
"The government's heavy-handed intervention threatens to impede Australia's digital economy and impacts the services we can deliver to Australians," said Mel Silva, Google's managing director for Australia and New Zealand.
Facebook issued a terse one-line response that hinted it could reconsider its activities in Australia if the proposals were implemented.
"We are reviewing the government's proposal to understand the impact it will have on the industry, our services and our investment in the news ecosystem in Australia," said Will Easton, Facebook's local manager.
The initiative has been closely watched around the globe as news media worldwide have suffered in an increasingly digital economy, where advertising revenue is overwhelmingly captured by Facebook, Google, and other Big Tech firms.
The crisis has been exacerbated by the economic collapse caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with dozens of Australian newspapers closed and hundreds of journalists sacked in recent months.
Unlike other countries' so-far unsuccessful efforts to force the platforms to pay for news, the Australian initiative uses competition law and not copyright regulations to challenge what Australia calls an "acute bargaining power imbalance" between media and the US giants.
'We want it to be fair'
The move has been strongly pushed by Australia's two biggest media companies, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and Nine Entertainment, who stand to gain the most from the crackdown.
News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller called Friday's announcement a "watershed moment" and declared the "platforms' days of free-riding are ending".
Frydenberg warned Google and Facebook that any "discrimination" against Australian media as a result of the new law would be considered a punishable breach of the code.
He said the aim was "not to protect Australian news media businesses from competition, or from the disruption that's occurring across this sector" but rather "to create a level playing field".
"We want Google and Facebook to continue to provide these services to the Australian community which are so much loved and used by Australians.
"But we want it to be on our terms. We want it to be in accordance with our law. And we want it to be fair."
(Writer: David Millikin)
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