Google opposes Australian plan to make Big Tech pay for news content

17 Aug 2020

Image: © dbvirago/

Google is campaigning against the proposed News Media Bargaining Code, which would force tech companies to share ad revenue with news publishers.

Google has said that a regulation proposed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) earlier this year would give an “unfair advantage” to news media businesses.

The News Media Bargaining Code would make it mandatory for tech platforms such as Google and Facebook to provide media companies with a share of the advertising revenue that is generated through news content.

Speaking about the proposed law earlier this year, Australian treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that media companies have been experiencing “significant financial pressure”, which has not been helped by the Covid-19 pandemic and a “sharp downturn” in advertising revenue.

“It’s only fair that those that generate the content get paid for it,” Frydenberg added.

In response, Google Australia managing director Mel Silva has published an open letter that is now targeting Australian Google users as a pop-up advertisement. In this letter, Silva claimed that the proposed law would result in a “dramatically worse” service from Google Search and YouTube, could lead to user data being handed over to media companies, and could put free services “at risk”.

“The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses — news media businesses — over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business,” she wrote.

“The law is set up to give big media companies special treatment and to encourage them to make enormous and unreasonable demands that would put our free services at risk.”

Google ‘misinformation’

In response, the ACCC said today (17 August) that Google’s open letter “contains misinformation” about the proposed law.

“Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube, unless it chooses to do so. Google will not be required to share any additional user data with Australian news businesses unless it chooses to do so.

The ACCC added that the code would allow Australian news businesses to “negotiate for fair payment” for journalists’ work that is included on Google services.

“This will address a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media businesses and Google and Facebook,” the statement continued. “A healthy news media sector is essential to a well-functioning democracy.”

In April of this year, Facebook also expressed disapproval of the proposed law, stating that it was “disappointed” with the ACCC’s decision.

‘Negative impact’ on creators

Google published a separate blogpost today that said the proposed law could have a “significant, negative impact” on the creator ecosystem in Australia, creating “an uneven playing field” when it comes to who makes money on YouTube.

“There are several areas that deeply concern us about this proposed law because it prioritises the traditional news industry over smaller creators of content and the platforms where they find an audience,” wrote Gautam Anand, head of YouTube APAC.

“We are particularly concerned that it provides unfair advantages to large news businesses over anyone else online, including the very creators that make YouTube, YouTube.”

He added that YouTube may be obligated to give large news publishers confidential information about its systems, that they could use to try to appear higher in rankings on the platform, putting other creators at a disadvantage. He also claimed that news businesses could “demand large amounts of money” beyond what they already receive through the platform’s partner programme.

“We are doing everything we can to push for changes and make sure YouTube Australia remains a place where anyone can connect to an audience or build a business, not just a few large media companies,” Anand said.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic