Google and Meta Executives Push Back Against Canada Online News Bill

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Google and Meta would withdraw access to news articles in Canada if legislation compelling internet companies to pay news publishers are passed, company executives told Canadian lawmakers on Wednesday. If the law is passed, Google may be forced to remove links to news articles in Canadian search results. As well, Meta would end the availability of news content in the country; a company executive told a Senate committee.

The company executives were testifying to the Senate Committee on “Uncapped Financial Liability,” considering Bill C-18. This Canada online news bill requires Google and Meta to negotiate commercial deals with Canadian publishers to ensure they pay for the content they share with their users. The executives said the extreme level of business uncertainty and uncapped financial liability is unreasonable and that requiring platforms to pay for news articles is a “serious threat to our business.”

In the past, Google has agreed to pay some news sites for the content they share on its platform in return for the right to feature those articles in search engine results. But those arrangements were not framed as payments for links, and they have yet to be a significant source of revenue.

If C-18 is enacted, it would also force Google and Meta to negotiate deals with Canada’s largest media organizations in return for sharing their content. That is something other than Meta, or Google wants because they believe their relationships with news publishers are based on trust and respect rather than money.

While some sizeable Canadian news organizations have reached agreements with Google and Meta, it is a minority of publishers who have done so. The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada, a membership organization representing hundreds of ethnic news organizations nationwide, has been particularly disappointed with how few of these deals have been made with their members.

The news industry is also concerned that Google and Meta have not yet struck any deals with its small, local media partners, which include many news organizations that are often non-English or non-French speaking. According to Maria Saras-Voutsinas, the NEPMCC’s executive director, this is a significant concern for her organization.

Congressional hearings on the Canada online news bill have drawn criticism from several sectors of the media, including journalists, academics, and trade associations, who have raised concerns that the proposed legislation doesn’t go far enough to ensure that Google and Meta are sharing revenues with their news publishers in a manner that is equitable for all. Moreover, some of the hearings have been held in video and hybrid formats, leaving witnesses feeling like they still need to have the opportunity to fully articulate their views on how the legislation should be shaped.

The testimony heard at the parliamentary hearings on the Canada online news bill reflects an ongoing global conversation about how to structure digital platform policies that are fair and equitable for news publishers and consumers. The Tow Center for Digital Journalism has been tracking the conversations in a series of posts and reports as part of its ongoing platforms and publishers’ work.

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