On Thursday Feb 18th, Canadian officials said the country will make Facebook pay for news content. They pledge to stay firm if the giant social media platform shuts off the country’s news as it did in Australia. Consequently, Canada also seeks allies in the media battle against tech giants.
Facebook blocks Australia
A new Australian legislation that proposes Facebook and Alphabet’s Google pay fees to Australian publishers for news links has caused Facebook to block all Australian news content on its site.
Facebook’s action was condemned by Steven Guilbeault, Canadian Heritage Minister. Guilbeault said such action would not deter Ottawa from implementing a similar legislation. He is in charge of crafting a similar legislation to be put in force in coming months.
Guilbeault told reporters “Canada is at the forefront of this battle … we are really among the first group of countries around the world that are doing this”.
Potential market failure
A potential market failure without government intervention was highlighted last year by Canadian media organisations. The Australian legislation would permit Australian publishers to recover C$620 million annually. Canada stands to lose 700 print journalism jobs out of a total of 3,100 jobs without similar legislation.
The Australian model, which requires Facebook and Google to reach deals to pay news outlets whose links drive activity on their services, could be adopted by Canada according to Guilbeault. On the other hand, they could agree on a price through binding arbitration.
France, requires large tech platforms to have talks with publishers seeking payment for use of news content. This could be one other option to consider.
Guilbeault spoke last week to his French, Australian, German and Finnish counterparts about working together on ensuring fair compensation for web content. He said “We are working to see which model would be the most appropriate.”
At some point Facebook’s approach would become “totally unsustainable” according to Guilbeault. He asked “I suspect that soon we will have five, 10, 15 countries adopting similar rules … is Facebook going to cut ties with Germany, with France?”
The Facebook action marks a turning point which would require a common international approach according to Professor Megan Boler, who specialises in social media in the University of Toronto.
During a phone interview, Boler said “We could actually see a coalition, a united front against this monopoly, which could be very powerful.”
News makes up less than 4 per cent of content people see on Facebook. Facebook however, contended that Australian publishers were able to generate around A$407 million from this last year.
500 deals worth around $1 billion over three years were signed by Google with publishers around the world for its new News Showcase service. Google is currently holding discussions with Canadian companies.
Since Ottawa wants an approach that is fair, transparent and predictable, Google would still be subject to the new Canadian law according to Guilbeault.
Guilbeault said “What’s to say that Google – tomorrow, six months, a year from now – doesn’t change its mind and says its doesn’t want to do that any more?”
While saying the company did not know details of the legislation, Guilbeault’s remarks received no comment from Lauren Skelly, Google’s spokesperson in Canada.
Canada should aspire to Google’s approach according to Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa. Geist believes Google is where companies put money into content that provided added value.
Over the phone, Geist said following the Australian model will find both the media and Facebook in a losing position.
According to Kevin Chan, head of public policy for Facebook in Canada, there were other ways to promote news in Canada that would be beneficial to big and small publishers.
20th February 2021 23:00
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