The inventor of the world wide web, Tim Berners-Lee is saying that the proposed Australian media laws which require Google and Facebook to negotiate a fair payment with news organisations for using their content in its search and newsfeed respectively.
In a submission to an Australian Senate inquiry on proposed law, News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code bill, Tim claims that the law would undermine the web’s ‘fundamental principle’, set a wrong precedence and “could make the web unworkable around the world.”
“My comments do not address the entirety of the proposed Code, but are limited to the area where my perspective is most relevant,” Tim who invented the world wide web in 1989 writes in the submission. “Specifically, I am concerned that the Code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online.”
The specific part of the code Tim addresses is the clause requiring selected digital platforms to have to negotiate and potentially pay in order to make links to news content from a particular group of news providers.
“The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates, how it has flourished till present, and how it will continue to grow in decades to come,” he explains.
However, Tim also states that he supports publishers’ and content creators’ right to be properly ‘rewarded’ for their content and the lack of it is an issue that needs to be addressed in Australia and around the world. He then goes on to re-emphasise that developing constraints on the use of hypertext links is not a move in the right direction towards achieving a solution for the issue.
“It would undermine the fundamental principle of the ability to link freely on the web, and is inconsistent with how the web has been able to operate over the past three decades,” he writes. “I therefore respectfully urge the committee to remove this mechanism from the code.”
According to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Chairman (ACCC) Rod Sims, the regulatory code was the best approach to ensure a level playing field, noting that competition laws around the world had failed to stop Facebook and Google gaining significant market power.
“This bargaining code is a journey, if we see market power elsewhere, we can add them to the code,” Rod told Reuters.
According to Parse.ly, a web analytics and content optimisation software for online publishers, Google and Facebook direct more than 80% of external traffic to various news sites, but most of the income goes to the internet platforms, not to content generators.
In addition, an ACCC inquiry found that for every A$100 of online advertising spend, $53 goes to Google, $28 to Facebook and A$19 to other media companies.
In November last year, after months of bargaining between Google, French publishers and news agencies over how to apply revamped EU copyright rules, which allow publishers to demand a fee from online platforms showing extracts of their news, Google signed copyright agreements with six French newspapers and magazines.
Other countries that have similar narratives buzzing around include the home of Google and Facebook, the USA. Although not much has been decided, the US is discussing a law which will allow news publishers to collectively bargain with tech platforms to receive appropriate fees for their news content.
Canadian newspapers are also asking the federal government to follow France and Australia in forcing these tech giant companies to pay to display their news content.
Main image from: World Wide Web Foundation