We know many of you still have questions about the News Media Bargaining Code and its impact on the Google services you use after Mel Silva, Managing Director for Google Australia, appeared at a public hearing of the Senate Economics Legislation Committee last week. We want to address some key questions to help clarify our position.
Question 1: What is Google’s position on this new law?
We are not against being regulated by a Code and we are willing to pay to support journalism—we are doing that around the world through News Showcase. But several aspects of the current version of this law are just unworkable for the services you use and our business in Australia. The Code, as it’s written, would break the way Google Search works and the fundamental principle of the internet, by forcing us to pay to provide links to news businesses’ sites.
There are two other serious problems remaining with the law, but at the heart of it, it comes down to this: the Code’s rules would undermine a free and open service that’s been built to serve everyone, and replace it with one where a law would give a handful of news businesses an advantage over everybody else.
Question 2: What have others said about this new law?
It’s not just Google that is concerned about key aspects of this Code. Twice since the first draft was released in July 2020, regulators and the Government asked the public to make submissions to provide feedback. Here’s an overview of these submissions:
- On 23 December 2020, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission released the submissions people made to the first draft of the News Media Bargaining Code. We found that more than 80% of these submissions flagged significant concerns––and they have come from various groups including businesses of all sizes, industry groups, small news publishers, YouTube creators, and hundreds of individual Australians. More information in this blog.
- The Senate Committee that is currently reviewing the law also asked for feedback. Our analysis shows that 34 of the 55 submissions they received voiced concerns about the law––including about the provision that makes digital platforms pay just to link (see question 4). This includes Google’s own submission. The remaining 21 submissions were either supportive or neutral towards most aspects of the Code. You can read through all submissions here.
Question 3: What’s so bad about paying for links?
The ability to link freely between sites is a fundamental part of the internet. Just like you don’t pay to include a hyperlink in an email, websites and search engines do not pay to provide links to third party websites. It creates a damaging precedent and privileges one group of content, that of news publishers, over everyone else, which breaks Google search. Read more about why linking freely is important for the open web here.
Question 4: What have others said about paying for links?
- “[The law] risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.” - Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web.
- ”...the requirement for digital platforms to pay for providing a link to another website runs counter to one of the fundamental tenets of the internet: the ability to link freely between content. The ability to freely make these connections has underpinned the creativity and sharing of knowledge enabled by the internet. This legislation undercuts this fundamental principle that has, for decades, enabled the internet to deliver real benefits to all Australians.” - The Business Council of Australia.
- “The precedent of charging for links and snippets is a fundamental threat to the open internet, not just Google.” - Scott Farquhar, co-founder of Australian tech company Atlassian, as told to The Australian on January 15.
- “In its current state [the bill] represents a fundamental challenge to the free and open Internet, to the functioning of the country’s digital economy, and to Australia’s economic future…” - Vint Cerf, chief internet evangelist at Google, also regarded as one of the ‘fathers of the internet’.
Question 5: You say you're not against paying to support journalism, but the Code isn't workable. So what do you propose?
We are willing to pay to support journalism, but how we do that matters. Instead of requiring payment for linking to websites, we have proposed a model where Google could pay Australian news businesses under this new Code through Google News Showcase: our AU$1.38 billion (US$1 billion) commitment over three years to support the news industry worldwide. There are nearly 450 publications signed up already, including seven publishers with 25 titles here in Australia, and publications like Reuters, Germany’s Der Spiegel, France’s Le Monde, or piauí, in Brazil.
Google News Showcase is a new product that will benefit both publishers and readers: Readers get more insight on the stories that matter to them with curated story panels across several Google services, and news publishers will increase their revenue through monthly licensing payment from Google as well as payment for paywalled content to provide users free access to select stories. In addition, news publishers have the opportunity to further grow their business through high-value traffic to their sites and deeper relationships with their audience.
News Showcase shows up as panels on Google News and Google Discover. In Germany and Brazil millions of users have already seen the panels publishers created there.
Google News Showcase would be subject to this new law. That means if a publisher is discussing a News Showcase deal with Google, and they’re not happy with the negotiation, they could go to an arbitrator to resolve any disagreements.
Question 6: What changes to the proposed law has Google suggested?
We’re proposing reasonable amendments in three areas:
- Instead of paying for links, we’re proposing to pay publishers through Google News Showcase, our AU$1.3 billion global investment in news partnerships over the next three years. We know that News Showcase works, because we’ve already signed News Showcase agreements with 450 publications, large and small, across a dozen countries, and they’re now getting paid. News Showcase would operate under this Code, with the option to go to an arbitrator if there are any disagreements.
- To ensure that both publishers and platforms can negotiate fairly, we’ve proposed a standard commercial arbitration model for deals on News Showcase, one that would let arbitrators look at the comparable value of similar transactions, rather than an unpredictable process which looks at only one side’s costs and discounts the value Google provides publishers.
- Giving notice to certain news businesses about changes to our algorithm should be limited to significant actionable changes only, noting we make thousands of updates to Google Search every year.
Question 7: If this law passes as it stands, will Google Search still be available in Australia?
The ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to Search. This Code creates an unreasonable and unmanageable financial and operational risk to our business. As Mel Silva said during the Senate hearing last week, if the Code were to become law in its current form, we would have no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.
After Mel said that, many media outlets reported that we have ‘threatened’ to leave Australia. No longer making Search available is the last thing we want to have happen, and it’s a worst case scenario if the Code remains unworkable. As we told Senators, we’re willing to pay publishers for value. We don’t object to a mandatory News Media Bargaining Code, and we believe there’s a clear path to make this Code work for everyone—publishers, digital platforms and Australian businesses and consumers.
Question 8: Why is making Search unavailable in Australia the worst case scenario, why can't you just remove news from Search results?
This is not possible due to the extremely broad and vague definition of “news” in the Code—which includes any “content that reports, investigates or explains current issues or events of interest to Australians." This goes far beyond what most of us would consider “news.” And the content we’d need to remove could be on any website at any time, not just the websites of the news businesses registered under the Code.
Question 9: What’s happening in France? I read that you’re paying publishers there...
We have offered (and signed ) deals for News Showcase in France and a dozen other countries, the same as what we’re proposing in Australia. We believe that these new agreements demonstrate that News Showcase can work as a solution to pay publishers within a framework set by regulators, without breaking Google Search or the open web.
Question 10: How does news content show up in Google?
Google does not show full news articles, we link you to news content, just like we link you to every other page on the web such as Wikipedia entries, personal blogs or business websites. You can read more about how news shows up in Google Search, and how we’re supporting the news industry in this blog.
Question 11: What does Google contribute to the Australian economy?
Each year, Google provides $53 billion in benefits to businesses and consumers. In 2002, Google Australia started with just one person in a lounge room, today, our team has grown to be 1,800 strong. Today, we support an additional 116,000 jobs across the country, and provide $39 billion in benefits to Australian businesses and $14 billion in benefits to consumers. In the 2019 calendar year, Google Australia paid AU$59 million of corporate income taxes, and Google’s presence in Australia contributed over AU$700 million in taxes to the Australian Government’s revenue base.
Question 12: What’s the impact of the revised law on YouTube?
On 8 December 2020, the Government confirmed that YouTube will not be included as a designated service in the Code at this time, and we agree that this is the right approach. However, the way that the Code is written leaves the door open for additional digital platforms to be added at any time, and several news businesses have advocated for YouTube’s inclusion in their Senate submissions. We will continue to make our case to the Australian Government on why YouTube should remain excluded from the Code.
You can read more about our proposal for a workable News Media Bargaining Code at g.co/afaircode and in these blog posts. You can hear Mel Silva’s full testimony at the Senate hearing on 22 January on this site.