On 25 June 2020 came the news that Google will start paying some publishers for news articles. As we have reported earlier, this announcement follows long-running battles and court cases between the giant tech companies and media firms and publishers worldwide over intellectual property rights. The announcement on 25 June by Google comes after antitrust regulators in France and Australia have called for Google to pay for news content. For Google, it marks a change in a stance which had for years stonewalled the news outlets while at the same time teaching them best practices in digital journalism. Needless to say, the tech giants campaigned against these government actions.
France’s Autorite de la Concurrence ruled on 9 April 2020 that Google pay French publishing firms and news agencies for reusing their content. Just eleven days after the French government’s ruling that Google must pay, the Australian government announced on 20 April 2020 that it has decided to make Google and Facebook pay media companies for content. The decision follows an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) begun in June 2018 and its findings in December 2019. The ACCC concluded in December 2019 that the two US-based tech giants generated vast ad revenues and profits by riding on the back of news content that they had not produced.
Giving its finding in December 2019, the ACCC recommended that the parties mutually come to a settlement within 11 months and set up a voluntary code of conduct. “The progress on that voluntary code of conduct has been very limited, so the government has taken the decision to set in place a mandatory code of conduct which will be released by the end of July and then brought into force,” said Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s Treasurer on 20 April 2020.
The decline in revenue exacerbated by Coronavirus
The Australian government’s press release stated, “The Government has decided that the original timeframe set out in its response requires acceleration. The Australian media sector was already under significant pressure; that has now been exacerbated by a sharp decline in advertising revenue driven by the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, while discussions between the parties have been taking place, progress on a voluntary code has been limited according to recent advice provided by the ACCC following a request by the Government for an update. The ACCC considers it is unlikely that any voluntary agreement would be reached with respect to the key issue of payment for content.”
Google has said it will pay for news content from select publishers as part of a new licensing program and be a part of its ‘new news experience’ coming later in the year and launched first on its Google News and Discover services. Google adds that it may offer free access to content behind paywalls by paying the content owners on behalf of its users. The pay for content program starts with publishers in Germany, Australia, and Brazil, reportedly Der Spiegel in Germany, InQueensland and InDaily in Australia, and Brazil’s Diarios Associados.
Meanwhile, Facebook has launched a new news tab in the US with content from participating publishers, which it pays. Curated by human editors, the stories are from publishers, including BuzzFeed, the New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Reports say that Facebook is planning to expand the news tab to Europe. Other reports tell us that the New York Times has opted out of Apple News.