UK’s announced watchdog for the relationship between tech platforms and publishers is now in place but still waiting for necessary legislation to be approved before it can act. The idea is that the Digital Markets Unit shall be able to enforce competition rules covering the big tech platforms and see to that for instance Google and Facebook pay for using publishers’ editorial content in online services. The forming of the unit can be seen as a political statement from the country that just has left the European Union.
“This will pave the way for the development of new digital services and lower prices, give consumers more choice and control over their data and support our news industry, which is vital to freedom of expression and our democratic values,” UK digital and culture minister, Oliver Dowden, told Sky News.
He expressed sympathy for a payment mechanism, like the Australian proposal to force platforms to pay for news. The Australian proposed legislation is meant to force platforms to negotiate with publishers about payment for content and if agreement could not be reached, an independent committee would decide about pricing. However, the Australian government slightly backtracked after threats from Google and actions from Facebook.
The backtracking means the approved legislation makes exceptions for platforms that are considered to voluntarily contribute to the nation’s media environment. Google and Facebook have reached agreements to pay some of the publishers most probably arguing that this means they contribute to the country’s media so they are exempted from the legislation.
Google threatened to close its search function in Australia if the original legislation would be approved. Facebook dramatically stopped users’ possibility to share publishers’ news content for a few days until the government slightly backtracked by excluding companies who anyway are considered supporting national media.
Both Google and Facebook have announced that they globally will be spending 1 billion US dollars each on content over the coming three years. Google has launched its Google News Showcase paying selected publishers for content in many countries and more to come. Facebook has started paying selected publishers for content on its news tab.
The European Parliament and the Australian government want publishers in general, and not just some of them, to get paid for platforms building profitable advertising businesses around publishers’ editorial content. Google and Facebook have said they will pay only the publishers they are interested in for Google News Showcase and News tab respectively.
France was the first country in the European Union to implement the new EU copyright directive forcing Google to start negotiations about paying publishers. After a long silence, Google and a limited number of publishers announced they had reached an agreement. Few details were published. It later showed that the payments were for some publishers to provide content to Google News Showcase. Publishers excluded from the agreement are protesting that this is not in harmony with spirit of the new EU legislation.
One of the big platforms – Microsoft – has sided with the publishers thereby opposing competing Google’s policy with critics saying Microsoft is only trying to win market share for its search engine Bing. When Google, protesting the draft Australian legislation said it would close its search function in the country, Microsoft stated its Bing would offer an alternative. Microsoft basically said that the original Australian legislation, forcing platforms to pay, is the way to go.
Microsoft has later signed a paper together with European publishers arguing that the European parliament should agree to a legislation that looks like the one that was originally planned for Australia.
European copyright directive says that all EU member countries should have the legislation implemented nationally in late April. This will be delayed (blaming the pandemic?). If something else is going on behind the curtains, it’s anyway happening very quietly.
GETTING AWAY WITH IT
The question is if Google and Facebook will get away with paying only selected publishers? The limited number of publishers who get paid could be positive and saying this is enough. Governments could be tempted to avoid fights with platforms that turn to the public for support.
The European publishers’ organisations are united insisting on a fair implementation of the EU’s new copyright directive aimed at seeing to that all publishers get paid by the big platforms using their editorial content.
A question is how strong the unity between individual publishers and publisher groups will be when only some of them now sign substantial agreements with Google and Facebook?
The European Union would before the end of April have to say something about the delayed implementation of the new copyright in all member states’ national law.