Microsoft has backed calls for Australia-style rules to be introduced in Europe that will force big tech companies to pay for news content.
The company announced on Monday that it will join forces with four leading European media lobby groups to work on laws that mirror those in Australia.
Casper Klynge, vice president of Microsoft, said the rules will help ‘preserve and promote journalism’ and are ‘critical to the success of democracy’.
Microsoft, which already pays some publishers for news, is attempting to push itself as a copyright-friendly alternative to rivals such as Facebook and Google, which have been bitterly opposed to the new regulations.
Facebook last week blocked access to all news content in Australia last week in protest, sparking international condemnation.
Casper Klynge, vice president of Microsoft, said the company will work to ‘preserve and promote journalism’ by introducing Australia-style paid content laws in Europe
Australian politicians are due to vote the laws into force this week, vowing today that Facebook’s protests will not convince them to change course.
Microsoft will join the European Publishers Council, News Media Europe, European Newspaper Publishers’ Association and the European Magazine Media Association, which together represent tens of thousands of publishers, in drafting the laws.
Mr Klynge said: ‘Access to fresh, broad and deep press coverage is critical to the success of our democracies.
‘Our commitment to preserving and promoting journalism isn’t new.
‘In October 2020, we launched a new initiative to invest in and support local media and, through Microsoft News, we have been sharing a large portion of revenue with press publishers. This initiative is a logical next step.’
Jean-Pierre de Kerraoul, President of ENPA added: ‘Independent journalism is vital to the social cohesion that is essential for democracy.
‘But the internet and social media have not been kind to the free press with most outlets hit hard.
‘Democracy relies on a free press to make it through difficult times. Any 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.’
No10 today said Britain would be ‘robust in defending free speech in journalism’ amid growing criticism of Mark Zuckerberg’s behemoth.
Australia’s proposals mean that news publishers will have the right to demand payment from social media companies if their content is hosted on the sites.
If the two sides cannot reach a deal, then they must take their proposals to an arbitrator who will decide which deal is the fairest.
Google and Facebook have been leading opposition to the laws, but Google has since backed down and inked contracts with some of Australia’s largest news companies – including Ruper Murdoch’s News Corp.
Now, Microsoft and European publishing leaders want similar laws to be included in sweeping new legislation that is currently being worked on in Brussels.
EU leaders have already passed one law – the Digital Copyright Directive – which is due to come into force in June and has already helped publishers in France ink a $98million deal with Google for their content.
But the new laws would go further by bringing in a regulator to enforce deals between the tech giants and publishers, rather than relying on copyright law.
Similar laws are also being worked on in the UK and Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has called for them to be introduced.
Hancock said the UK should follow Australia’s lead and said on Sunday that Oliver Dowden, the digital, culture, media and sport secretary, was watching the country ‘very closely’.
Meanwhile Julian Knight, head of Britain’s Digital, Culture and Media Committee, said it is time for social media giants to be ‘brought to heel’ after attempting to bully Australia into line.
Facebook ‘should face stern legislative action and be brought to heel that way rather than through the softly-softly approach which they said they wanted,’ Mr Knight said.
The decision means Daily Mail Australia’s nearly five million followers can no longer access our news content on Facebook
‘I think they’re almost using Australia as a test of strength for global democracies as to whether or not they wish to impose restrictions on the way in which they do business, or corrections to the way in which they operate within markets.
‘So, we’re all behind Australia in my view,’ he said.
Australia’s senate began debating the new laws on Monday after they were passed by the lower house of parliament last week.
Senators are expected to vote on the bill Tuesday, and it is expected to pass with a majority of support.
Simon Birmingham, Australia’s Minister for Finance, said ahead of the debate that Facebook’s protests will not produce significant changes to the law.
‘The bill as it stands … meets the right balance,’ he told ABC on Monday, adding that it ensures ‘Australian-generated news content by Australian-generated news organisations can and should be paid for and done so in a fair and legitimate way.’
‘There’s no reason Facebook can’t do and achieve what Google already has,’ Birmingham added.
Lobby group DIGI, which represents Facebook, Google and other online platforms like Twitter Inc, meanwhile said on Monday that its members had agreed to adopt an industry-wide code of practice to reduce the spread of misinformation online.
Under the voluntary code, they commit to identifying and stopping unidentified accounts, or ‘bots’, disseminating content; informing users of the origins of content; and publishing an annual transparency report, among other measures.
Global fight to make Facebook pay for content begins
Australia has forged ahead with a world-first law to force tech giants to pay for news hosted on their platforms, with a bill due to be passed in the coming days.
But it is far from the only country working on such laws…
Policymakers have been working on sweeping regulations to reform the tech sector, culminating in a report by the Digital Markets Taskforce published last year.
Among its many recommendations were for ‘codes of conduct’ to be drawn up which would ‘rebalance the relationship between platforms and publishers’, based on Australia’s laws.
The new UK laws, which are likely to be included in the Digital Competition Bill, could force platforms such as Facebook to negotiate prices with publishers for hosting their content within a given time-frame under a ‘mandatory bargaining code’.
If the sides cannot agree then they must take a ‘best effort’ offer to an independent arbitrator who would decide on the final price.
While the exact workings of the system still need to be hashed out, it is likely it the arbitrator would be run by the Digital Markets Unit – a new regulator due to launch in April.
Consultation on the laws are due to begin in April or May this year before drafts are drawn up, with the legislation likely to come before parliament some time next year.
The EU passed a copyright directive in 2019 which is due to be made into law by member states by July this year, and which has already been used in France to negotiate a price for content between tech giants and publishers.
Last week, Google agreed to pay $98milion over three years to a conglomerate of publishers to host their content – though the deal has been criticised as opaque and unfair to independent news outlets.
Meanwhile EU regulators, led by antitrust campaigner Margrethe Vestager, are also working on sweeping market reforms in the form of the Digital Services Act and Digital Markets bill which are also designed to redefine the relationship between large tech companies and their smaller counterparts.
The laws would create a host of new regulators with powers including levying fines and carrying out investigations. Such regulators could, in the future, oversee negotiations between tech firms and publishers over content.
Policymakers in the US are thought to be watching moves in Australia, the EU and UK with interest as regulators in the country tighten the screw on tech companies after years of resistance.
In a move which appears designed to head-off laws forcing tech giants to pay for content, Facebook last month signed voluntary deals with some US publishers.
Under the terms of the deal, Facebook would pay $3million a year to the likes of New York Times, ABC News, the Washington Post and Bloomberg to display their stories on a new news portal.
But a source at one outlet told the Press Gazette that the deal is little more than ‘a PR move’ designed ‘to stop us from getting really meaningful licensing revenue’ from laws such as the one being passed in Australia.
Australia is on the verge of becoming the first country to pass laws forcing tech giants to pay for content they host.
Unlike EU copywright laws, the Australian model instead uses legislation to oblige platforms to negotiate terms to pay for content under a ‘mandatory bargaining code’, drawn up and supervised by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
In essence, both sides have to negotiate a deal and set a price for the content within a specified timeframe.
If they fail to reach a deal, then they each have to take their best offer to an arbitrator, who rules in favour of the one they believe is closest to a fair deal.