Google is ramping up its opposition to the federal government’s Online News Act, warning the proposed new law would “break” its popular search engine.
Google Canada vice-president and managing director Sabrina Geremia released a detailed criticism of the bill Monday in an online post, stating the bill as currently drafted would likely make Canada’s news industry worse off and would hurt Canadians’ ability to find quality information.
One of the social-media giant’s biggest concerns is language in the bill that prohibits “digital news intermediary operators” – a category that would apply to Google and other search engines – from giving “undue or unreasonable preference” to specific news items.
The company argues this language is unclear and puts at risk the core function of Google’s search engine, which is to provide ranked responses to a search query.
It also states that requiring Google to pay the news organizations that appear in search results amounts to a “link tax” and could mean consumers receive less information.
“The ability to link freely between websites is fundamental to how the internet works,” Ms. Geremia states. “Canadians expect that when they search for information, they will have access to ALL the content the internet has to offer. Requiring payment for links risks limiting Canadians’ access to the information they depend on. The Online News Act would break this critical principle of the internet for everyone.”
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced Bill C-18, the Online News Act, last month. The goal of the bill is to compel global tech companies such as Facebook and Google to negotiate payment agreements with news organizations as compensation for news content that appears on the large platforms.
The legislation is modelled after a similar approach enacted last year in Australia.
Facebook and Google lobbied hard against the original Australian proposal, with Facebook going so far as to temporarily block news sharing on its platform. Google had threatened to do so. The two companies ultimately backed down after the Australian proposal was amended.
Ashley Michnowski, a spokesperson for Mr. Rodriguez, said in a statement that hundreds of newsrooms have closed because advertising revenue has shifted to tech giants. She rejected Google’s claim that the bill amounts to a link tax or that it would break Google search by removing or limiting search results.
“There is no link tax. Canadians are not paying for anything, and no money goes to the government. Facebook and Google earn money from having links to news sites on their platforms because the work of independent journalists has value,” Ms. Michnowski said. “We have had constructive conversations with Google, yet they’re pulling from their original playbook in Australia when Google tried to avoid regulation by exaggerating their concerns.”
Like the Canadian proposal, the Australian law allows large platforms such as Facebook and Google to be exempt from some elements of the law if they have reached compensation agreements with news publishers.
Facebook, Google and Apple have already signed some partnerships with news organizations in Canada, including The Globe and Mail.
Paul Deegan, president and chief executive officer of News Media Canada, which advocates on behalf of member Canadian news publishers, dismissed Google’s claims that the bill amounts to a “link tax.” He said the Canadian bill is “well-crafted, balanced legislation” similar to Australia’s.
“Those claims are nonsense. Nothing in Bill C-18 would affect Google’s discretion as to what news content is hosted or how news sources are ranked,” Mr. Deegan said in a statement to The Globe.
The Globe is a member of News Media Canada.
Pierre Karl Péladeau, president and CEO of Quebecor, which owns TVA Nouvelles and publishes Le Journal de Montréal and Le Journal de Québec, weighed in on the bill Monday during a speech at the International Institute of Communications conference in Ottawa.
“The federal government’s Bill C-18 is a first step in the right direction that recognizes the exploitation and distribution of local information without compensation by foreign platforms is unfair and detrimental to the sustainability of Canadian news media,” he said in his prepared remarks.
The legislation is currently before the House of Commons at second reading and has not yet been sent to committee for detailed hearings. During the most recent day of debate, last Friday, Conservative MP John Nater pointed out that his party’s platform in the 2021 election campaign included a pledge to bring in a digital media royalty framework that incorporates the best practices of policies adopted by Australia and France.
However, he said the Conservatives have many questions about C-18. He tabled a motion that would see the bill withdrawn in favour of a study by the Canadian Heritage committee.
The Bloc Québécois and NDP have indicated they support the bill in principle, meaning it will likely proceed through the legislative process over the Conservatives’ objections.
With a report from Alexandra Posadzki
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