By Chris Griffith
Google has published a new open letter to users that seems to position the internet giant as being more amenable to paying news media for content that it uses.
Google had earlier published a letter to users saying their ability to search on Google and YouTube would be hurt by the new media bargaining code being implemented by media watchdog the ACCC.
While not conceding ground, the new letter took on a more conciliatory tone.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve been really clear that we do not oppose a code of conduct governing the relationship between news media and digital platforms like Google,” the new letter says.
“We want to see a strong future for Australian media. We’ve already agreed to pay a number of publishers to license their content for a new product, including some in Australia, as well as helping train thousands of Australian journalists.
“It’s part of our bigger commitment to the Australian economy, including working with over a million businesses of all sizes, helping support almost 100,000 jobs, sharing revenues through the YouTube Partner Program, and paying tens of millions of dollars in tax in accordance with Australian Law.”
Google’s letter says the company does not “use” or “steal” news content.
“We just link you to what you’re looking for, including news, and we’ve shared research showing that the fall in newspaper revenue over recent years was mainly the result of the loss of classified ads to online classifieds businesses.
“We want to see a News Media Bargaining Code that works for everyone involved, and most importantly for you and the millions of other Australians who rely on services such as Search and YouTube. We’re working with the Government and the regulator to find a way through, and address some of the problems with the law as it stands now.
“With some reasonable changes, we believe the law’s proposals could be made more fair and workable.”
Google in its letter proposes changes such as watering down the need to give news publishers advance notice of significant changes to search, sharing data, and revamping the negotiation process.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is investigating whether Facebook and Google should pay for news, releasing a draft of a mandatory code that would require tech companies to negotiate fees with news organisations. Should agreement not be reached, compulsory arbitration would come into effect. Consultation on the draft code finished on August 28.
The ACCC says final legislation is expected to go to parliament shortly after conclusion of this consultation process.
Both Google and Facebook have threatened to block Australian news entirely if the code comes into effect. But the code has support across Australia’s major political parties.
The Coalition has heavily backed the new code, with Treasurer Josh Frydenberg saying the government would not be coerced by the tech giants into watering it down.
Labor Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland said news organisations needed to be adequately compensated for the use of their content and this should have happened sooner.
“Australian media companies must get a decent return for their investment in public interest journalism from digital platforms such as Google and Facebook.”
Greens’ media spokeswoman Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she supported the scheme but wanted it extended to the ABC, SBS and other media players. “The Greens have been calling for big tech giants like Google and Facebook to be reined in for a long time,” she said.
Centre Alliance Senator Stirling Griff, who represents himself and Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie, said the group had urged the government to take up the digital platforms issue in the first place.
Independent Senator Rex Patrick also said Google and Facebook must pay. “Historically, Google and Facebook have generated billions of dollars here in Australia and contributed very little in the way of tax, that has some bearing on my thinking.
“There’s no question that both of these companies have drawn advertising income away from media outlets. Although that advertising revenue has not necessarily been directly received from news content, there’s basically no denying that people are drawn to their platforms, because it includes that news content.”
Senator Patrick said threats by Google and Facebook to not publish Australian news and news snippets on their platforms were hollow. “If they did (walk away) it isn’t the end of the world, I think it would open up other opportunities for local players and that’s not a bad thing.”