Google threatens to pull search engine from Australia over proposed news law

Sydney, Australia, Jan 22 (efe-epa).- Google threatened on Friday to pull its search engine from Australia if Canberra passes a law that would force the firm, as well as Facebook and other large technology companies, to pay local media for publishing their content.

According to the proposed News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, which was presented last month in parliament aiming to “address the bargaining power imbalance between news media businesses and digital platforms,” an independent arbiter will be able to “determine the level of remuneration that should be paid under a fair and balanced final offer arbitration model should the parties be unable to reach agreement.”

Google Australia and New Zealand’s managing director Mel Silva told a parliamentary hearing Friday that “if this version of the code were to become law it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.”

She said this would be the worst-case scenario, but the code is “untenable” for them.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental to search and coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk,” she said.

“There is, however, a workable solution for Google where we would pay publishers for value, they would create and curate content and panels that would exist across several Google services,” she said. “These are deals that have been done all around the world, 450 so far.”

After learning of the option to pull the search engine, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Brisbane that the government makes it own rules and “that’s how things work here in Australia. And people who want to work with that, in Australia, you’re very welcome. But we don’t respond to threats.”

Last week it emerged that Google was testing removing some Australian news sites from search results for about 1 percent of its local users

The Senate committee plans to deliver its report on the code proposal on Feb. 12.

The plan has been criticized by the British creator of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee, who said the code “risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.”

Senior US trade representatives Daniel Bahar and Karl Ehlers urged Canberra to “suspend” its proposed law, saying in a letter that the move could “raise concerns with respect to Australia’s international trade obligations.”

The proposal, which aims to protect local media, responds to the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission set out in December 2019 in a report on the impact of search engines and social networks on the advertising and media market.

A day earlier, Google reached an agreement with the editors of French newspapers on a system to remunerate them for publishing their content, ending a months-long dispute that had reached the courts. EFE-EPA


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