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Google threatens to shut down search engine in Australia as it lobbies against digital news code – TechCrunch

Google has threatened to shut down its search engine in Australia – as it intensifies its lobbying against a bill intended to force it to pay news publishers for the reuse of their content.

Facebook would also be subject to the law. And has previously said it will ban sharing of news about its products due to the passage of the law, as well as claiming to have reduced its investments in the country due to the legislative threat.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental for research. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law, that would leave us with no choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia, ”Google warned today.

Last August, the tech giant took another pot-shop to the proposal, warning that the quality of its products in the country could suffer and could cease to be free if the government acts to entice the giants of the technology to share advertising revenue with media companies.

Since last summer, Google appears to have shifted its lobbying strategy – apparently abandoning its attempt to derail the law entirely in favor of trying to reshape it to minimize the financial impact.

His latest lobbying is focused on trying to squeeze out the most harmful elements (as he sees it) from the bill – while also pushing his News Showcase program, which he hastily launched last year, like an alternative model of payment to publishers. that he would prefer to become the vehicle for remittances under the Code.

Australia’s digital news code bill, currently before parliament, includes a controversial requirement that tech giants Google and Facebook pay publishers to link to their content – not just to display snippets of text.

Yet Google has warned Australia that paying for “links and snippets” will make the internet work harder.

In a statement to the Senate Economic Committee today, its Vice President for Australia and New Zealand, Mel Silva, said: “This provision of the Code would set an untenable precedent for our business and the digital economy. . It’s not compatible with how search engines work or how the internet works, and that’s not just Google’s point of view – it was cited in many submissions received by this survey.

“The principle of unrestricted linking between websites is fundamental for research. Coupled with the unmanageable financial and operational risk if this version of the Code were to become law, it would leave us no choice but to stop making Google search available in Australia. “

Google is certainly not alone in screaming scandal over a proposal to demand payments for connections.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, warned that the bill “risks violating a fundamental principle of the Web by requiring payment for linking certain online content”, among other alarming submissions to the committee.

In his written testimony, he continues:

“Before search engines were effective on the Web, following links from page to page was the only way to find material. Search engines make this process much more efficient, but they can only do it by using the web’s link structure as their main input. Links are therefore fundamental for the Web.

“From what I understand, the proposed code is intended to force certain digital platforms to negotiate and potentially pay to link to news content from a particular group of news providers.

“Charging a fee for a link on the web blocks an important aspect of the value of web content. To my knowledge, there is no current example of a legal payment requirement for links to other content. The ability to link freely – that is, without limitations on the content of the linked site and without monetary charges – is fundamental to the functioning of the web, its rise so far and its growth in the decades to come. . “

However, it should be noted that Berners-Lee’s submission does not mention any excerpts. Not once. It’s all about the links.

Meanwhile, Google has just struck a deal with publishers in France – which they say covers payment for content snippets.

In the EU, the tech giant is subject to an already reformed copyright directive that extended a neighboring right to news content to cover the reuse of snippets. Although the directive do not cover links or “very short snippets”.

In France, Google claims to pay only for content “beyond links and very short extracts”. But he didn’t say anything about the snippets in this context.

French publishers clearly defend EU law Is cover the not-so-short snippets of text that Google typically displays in its news aggregator – pointing out that the directive states that the exception should not be interpreted in a way that affects the effectiveness of related rights. So Google seems to have a big French fight in its hands if it tries to deny payments for snippets.

But there is still everything to play in Australia. Therefore, underneath, Google is trying to combine what are really two separate issues (payment for links vs payment for snippets) – in the hope of reducing the financial impact compared to what’s already built into the law. of the EU. (Although this has only been actively applied in France so far, which is ahead of other EU countries in transposing the directive into national law).

In Australia, Google is also pushing for the Code to “refer to News Showcase” (i.e. the program it launched once legal editorial staff was on the wall on paying publishers) – pushing so that this is the means by which he can make “trade deals to pay Australian news publishers for their value”.

Of course, a trade negotiation process is preferable (and familiar) to the tech giant rather than being bound by the Code’s “final offer arbitrage model” – which Google attacks as having ” biased criteria ”and claims to subject it to“ unmanageable financial and operational criteria risk ”.

“If this is replaced by standard commercial arbitration based on comparable agreements, it would encourage good faith negotiations and ensure that we are held accountable through robust dispute resolution,” Silva also argues.

A third provision that the tech giant is very keen to remove from the current project requires it to notify publishers before changes to its algorithms that could affect how their content is discovered.

“The algorithm notification provision could be adjusted to require only reasonable notice of significant changes that may be made to Google’s algorithm, to ensure that publishers are able to respond to changes that affect them. concern, ”he suggests on this subject.

It is certainly interesting to consider how, over the course of a few years, Google’s stance has shifted from ‘we will never pay for the news’ – before any relevant legislation – to ‘please let us pay for the news’. licensing news through our proprietary licensing program ” once the EU had adopted a directive now very actively enforced in France (with the help of competition law) and also with Australia which was preparing to ink a similar law.

It turns out that legislation can change the mind of the tech giant.

Of course, the idea of ​​making anyone pay to link to online content is obviously a terrible idea – and should be scrapped.

But if this part of the project is a bargaining tactic by Australian lawmakers to get Google to agree that it will have to pay publishers Something so he seems to be winning one.

And while Google’s threat to shut down its search engine may seem “ active, ” as Silva suggests, considering the number of alternative search engines out there, it is not the threat that it does. once was.

Especially since many alternative search engines are much less abusive towards the privacy of users.


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