Google responds to Australian Press Law: “We’ll shut down Australian search before we pay news sites for links”
Google says it would have “no real choice” but to shut down its search engine in Australia if Australia passes a new law requiring Google to pay news sites to link to their articles. This would “set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy,” said Google’s Mel Silva in Friday testimony before the Australian Senate.
News organizations around the world have been struggling financially over the last decade or two. Many have blamed Internet companies like Google and Facebook that—in their view—have diverted advertising revenue that once went to news organizations. Some in the news industry argue that Google benefits from including news stories in its search results and should compensate news sites for the privilege of doing so.
So last year, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission proposed a new mandatory arbitration process designed to correct a supposed power imbalance between tech giants and Australian news sites. Under the new framework, news sites can demand that tech platforms (initially Google and Facebook) pay them for linking to their stories. Google and Facebook are required to negotiate “in good faith” toward a payment agreement.
You might think that Google would simply stop linking to Australian news sites. But that won’t be allowed under the ACCC proposal. New non-discrimination rules require Google to treat sites the same whether or not it has to pay to link to them.
Australia’s proposal has provoked a broad backlash from advocates of the open Web—including the inventor of the Web itself. In a letter to the Australian Senate earlier this week, Tim Berners-Lee argued that Australia’s proposal would set a damaging precedent.
“To my knowledge, there is no current example of legally requiring payments for links to other content,” Berners-Lee said. “The ability to link freely—meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees—is fundamental to how the Web operates.”
In any event, Australian officials don’t seem worried about Google’s opposition.
“We don’t respond to threats,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday. “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia.”