After an unexpected news blockade from Facebook and harsh words from the Australian government, things quickly calmed down. This morning, the tech company and the Australian government announced they have reached an agreement to stop the platform from blocking news media. Facebook will now try to make agreements with publishers.
The stalemate, which arose last Wednesday, revolved around paying the media to use their content. The government wants Facebook and Google to pull the wallet; that should help the Australian media industry.
If it is not possible to reach agreements with publishers in the near future, an arbitration committee will decide on the amount. Something the platforms did not like.
Criticism of bill
“Everyone loses a little”, says Mark Deuze, professor of media studies (UvA) to the outcome. “Facebook was bullying too much and Australia was pretty stupid about the digital culture we live in.” He is referring to the fact that there should be paid for links alone. This led to a lot of criticism from the tech industry, including from the creator of the worldwide web, Tim Berners-Lee.
The amendment added today obliges the Australian government to check to what extent agreements have already been made between the platforms and publishers before the rules apply to a specific company.
In addition, Facebook and Google are given more time for negotiations. The period was three months and there will be two months mediation Bee.
All adjustments give the platforms a somewhat better starting position in the negotiations.
The agreements yield a PR victory for both parties. Facebook may say Australia has moved their way with this change and Australia may point out that the social network is still discussing payments with publishers.
“All the changes give the platforms a somewhat better starting position in the negotiations,” says Stefan Kulk, associate professor of technology and law (UU). He thinks that the biggest gain for Facebook probably lies in the fact that the government must first look at what agreements have been made, because it allows them to get out of the law.
All in all, Kulk thinks Facebook has achieved a small victory with this. “Because the sharp edges are off the bill.” At the same time, the Australian government has arranged for the platform to pay for news, he emphasizes.
Google has already made agreements with News Corp, Seven and Nine Entertainment; this involves many tens of millions. It means that the content of these media parties will be featured in ‘Google News Showcase’. This is therefore separate from the search results of the tech giant. Facebook is now also entering into talks with publishers.
The payments must therefore help journalism. Although there are also questions about this, says Deuze. “Ultimately it is still unclear whether journalism will benefit from this.”
The EU is a larger market, and companies will take this into account with their threats and lobbying.
Last week’s escalation sparked global attention for the case. Facebook showed the power it has when it comes down to it. Still, Marietje Schaake, a former D66 MEP and now director of technology policy at Stanford University, does not think Facebook will try such a move here in Europe. “The EU is a bigger market, companies will take that into account with their threats and lobbies.”
There have been calls from MEPs to apply the Australian model in Europe. Mireille van Eechoud, professor of information law (UvA), points out that legislation is currently being implemented in EU member states that allow compensation and that the rules here are different than in Australia.
“Linking and sharing short fragments is excluded from the new rules in Europe,” she says. In addition, there is no arbitration committee in Europe that can ultimately determine what the price will be, a publisher has to go to court here. “So whether it is time to say ‘we need a shovel above’ in Europe” seems premature, “says Van Eechoud.
Meanwhile, the Facebook pages of media such as The Australian and the Sydney Morning Herald are still empty. Although the blocking went quickly last week, it now takes Facebook a few days to restore everything.