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Meta threatens to stop sharing news in USA to protest publisher payment plan

Good luck with that, Zuck – remember how it worked out in Australia?

Meta, the social media conglomerate formerly known as Facebook, has threatened to remove news from its platforms if the US adopts a law that would force it to negotiate with publishers to pay them for allowing links to their content.

If that sounds familiar, your memory is holding up well: Australia proposed just such a law in 2021, Facebook pulled news from its platform for a few weeks, but then came back to the bargaining table and agreed to pay local news outlets.

Australia's government argued that news publishers' content has value that Facebook and Google weren't paying for, and asserted they should do so by sending them money to fund their operations.

The United States' Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2022 has similar aims, but relies on smallish publishers (those with under 1,500 employees) and broadcasters to band together and negotiate with the likes of Facebook and Google over "terms and conditions of the covered platform’s access to digital news content."

The definition of "covered platform" is online platforms with at least 50 million US-based users, net annual sales exceeding $550 billion or at least a billion worldwide monthly active users.

In other words: Meta and Google.

Meta communications chap Andy Stone expressed The Social Network's displeasure with the draft law as follows:

As it happens, that language is very, very similar to wording Meta has used elsewhere.

The company's argument against Canada's Online News Act (Bill C-18) also makes the argument that publishers profit from having their work shared on Facebook because it is more widely viewed, which drives subscriptions and helps them to sell ads.

And it's just what Facebook said in Australia, where local execs bemoaned that the local law "fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content."

Australia's government stared Facebook down and won, after tweaking the negotiation process so that not all publishers could enter into negotiations, which were facilitated by a mediator and had jump-off points rather than being driven and decided by government officials.

The Australian scheme has worked quite well. News outlets that have received cash from Google and Facebook have used it to hire staff in rural and regional locations. But other publishers – often smaller entities or those who don't cover hard news – have not been able to bring the web giants to the table for talks, and have seen no cash.

Canada's law is in committee and the US bill has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights.

There's little prospect it will emerge in a hurry.

But the idea that Big Tech should chip in to ensure the survival of news organizations is gathering admirers. India has expressed a liking for the arrangement and New Zealand announced a plan for a pay-to-link scheme last Sunday. Europe likes the idea.

All governments considering the arrangement have Australia's experience to learn from.

The politicians involved may, however, not know that Josh Frydenberg – the minister who drove the negotiations with Facebook – often mentioned securing payments from the company as an example of why he deserved to be re-elected. But he lost his seat at Australia's May 2022 election, when the government of which he was a member was also voted out of office. Reasons unrelated to the Facebook deal were behind both losses. So while Australia's deal with Facebook was welcomed locally, it did not earn much political capital. ®

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