By Marc Arcas
San Francisco, Mar 5 (efe-epa).- Facebook’s decision to withdraw news from its platform in Australia and a raft of agreements between individual media outlets and internet giants have focused attention on the question of whether Google and Facebook should be required to pay publishers for the use of their original content.
In Australia, both Facebook and Google threatened drastic action as the country’s parliament prepared to pass a law, the News Media Bargaining Code, that would require the platforms to compensate publishers.
While Google ultimately drew back, Facebook shut down its Australian news feed for days, relenting after parliament agreed to make changes to the bill.
A truce may have been reached Down Under, but another battle in the same war is looming in Europe.
The way things unfolded in Australia can be seen as establishing a model. Media giants press politicians for legislation, the platforms respond with threats and the back-and-forth results in individual deals among the post powerful players.
A week before the vote in the Australian parliament, Google reached agreement with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The day after the bill passed, Facebook cut deals with three publishers.
Though the details of those accords remain confidential, leaks indicate that Facebook and Google committed to pay fixed amounts, not the percentage of ad revenue sought by many of the publishers.
Google has established similar arrangements with Brazil’s Diarios Associados media conglomerate and German newsweekly Der Spiegel.
In France, Google signed a contract requiring it to pay 121 periodicals roughly 60 million euros ($71.8 million) for use of their content.
The problem arises from a conflict between the intellectual property rights of publishers and two of the conceptual pillars of the internet: the free circulation of information and the sharing of links.
“Copyright applies to text, it doesn’t apply to the facts, it doesn’t apply to the actual details, it’s only the exact words in the story,” Mark Bartholomew, professor of law at University at Buffalo School of Law, told Efe.
“In fact, because of the thought that news is supposed to be freely exchanged and disseminated, the courts – not just the United States, I think everywhere – have the attitude ‘well we’re gonna be pretty generous as far as news goes and say that sure if you copy the exact story maybe that’s actionable but not if you just copy bits and pieces of it or the main items in the story,'” he said.
Usually, when someone shares a link to a news story on Facebook, only the headline and first few paragraphs appear, not the entire text.
Likewise, Google search results only display an extract of each item.
The problem for publishers is that many people don’t click on links to the original stories, which hurts the outlets by reducing traffic to their sites, making it difficult for them to sell space to advertisers.
Facebook and Google, meanwhile, are raking in ad revenue.
Bartholomew points out that in most countries, all of this is perfectly legal. While in the US, internet platforms have next to no responsibility for what users post or share thanks to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
What has made the situation a matter of urgency for media outlets are changes in news consumption habits. In the US, for example, a recent survey found that 86 percent of people get news from digital sources, compared with 68 percent from television.
“It wasn’t so long ago that television and these digital devices were still pretty much neck-and-neck in the US. Now we have seen digital devices really overtake the other platforms very clearly,” Amy Mitchell, director of journalism research at Pew Research Center, said in a conversation with Efe.