Australia Passes Legislation Regulating Big Tech Companies’ Spreading of News

Rahul Khanna, Junk Editor

Australia’s parliament passed legislation on Feb. 24 forcing tech giants Facebook and Google to pay local Australia media before sharing their content, whether through search results or news feed.

The legislation was developed by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in order to address the alleged imbalance between Australian news outlets and large media companies. In particular, many were concerned that companies such as Facebook were financially taking advantage of news organizations by aggregating their articles without sufficient compensation.

“This legislation will help level the playing field and see Australian news media businesses paid for generating original content,” Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

The drafted laws were heavily contested by Facebook for months, who alleged that news content was not being stolen by the company but rather voluntarily shared by publishers. The dispute culminated in Facebook removing all access to news for Australians on Feb. 17; however, the mass-removal blocked access to not only numerous news sites, but also emergency services, non-profit organizations and state health agencies. 

“These actions only confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of Big Tech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

After facing severe backlash, Facebook reversed the decision as part of a deal with lawmakers where Facebook and Google retain the ability to control whether news appears on their site, and are allowed two months of negotiations with publishers.

In light of the new legislation, Google has already begun to form partnerships with Australia’s largest media businesses in order to secure the right to share their work. Proponents of the new legislation hope that deals will soon be brokered between smaller, more regional news outlets that struggle to compete with large-scale businesses. 

The new legislation is revolutionary in the regulation of large tech companies, and could set a precedent for other countries like the United States to take similar measures.

“Independent journalism is vital to the social cohesion that is essential for democracy,” Jean-Pierre de Kerraoul, President of the European Newspaper Publishers Association said. “Any legislative proposal that strengthens democracy and supports a free press should be promoted by the technology industry, which is a product of the very same freedoms and values.”