Google revenue

Ottawa introduces bill to force web giants to share revenue with media

OTTAWA — The federal government has tabled legislation that would force web giants to pay media outlets to link to news content on their platforms in a bid to level the playing field between big tech and the information industry in decline in Canada.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced the bill on Tuesday, which would require digital giants like Google and Facebook to share a portion of the revenue they generate by publishing Canadian news content with media outlets.

The government will hold a technical briefing on the details of the bill on Tuesday morning, followed by a press conference held by Rodriguez.

The Liberal government has already pledged to model its legislation on Australia’s News Media Bargaining Code, which came into effect just over a year ago and allows news publishers and tech giants negotiate their own payment arrangements for content shared on their sites. The crafting of this law initially led to Google threatening to pull its search engine out of Australia, while Facebook temporarily blocked Australians from viewing or sharing information on its platform.

The federal Liberals initially promised to table the Canadian version of the code by the first week of February, to meet the party’s campaign commitment to introduce the bill within 100 days of forming government.

It is one of three bills focused on regulating online platforms that the Liberals have said they will introduce soon; only Bill C-11, which would subject streaming platforms to the same rules as broadcasters, was tabled within the 100-day deadline. Legislation tackling online harm is still being drafted, with Rodriguez last week unveiling a panel of experts to weigh in on the drafting of the bill.

The Liberals’ delay in introducing Tuesday’s bill follows criticism from industry experts that Ottawa has been slow to help Canada’s struggling journalism industry, while tech titans like Google and Facebook dominate the digital advertising market.

Many industry players have lobbied for the federal government to correct the online ad revenue imbalance, including Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star.

In 2018, Ottawa earmarked $50 million over five years to fund the Local Journalism Initiative and pledged a controversial $595 million over the same period to support Canadian journalism. Both initiatives have been scrutinized to determine who is eligible for funding and how outlets are selected.

The Australian model, on which Canadian legislation is to be based, has itself drawn criticism for leading to secret deals between tech giants and news publishers and for potentially excluding smaller publishers.

Under the code, parties that fail to reach an agreement must go through a final offer arbitration process. This process is overseen by the Australia Communications and Media Authority, the national version of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

The arbitration process was not triggered in Australia because Google and Facebook made their own deals with publishers.

Similar agreements have already been signed in Canada, although it is unclear whether they will be exempt from the proposed legislation.

Last fall, Google struck a deal with 11 publishers, including Torstar, to join its News Showcase service. Through the service, users can access content from certain publications, share information from trusted outlets, and redirect traffic to their sites.

Meta, Facebook’s parent company, signed a multi-year deal with Torstar in November that will see the web giant pay the publisher for the ability to post links to work produced by its publications. Seventeen other Canadian publishers are part of the program, called News Innovation Test.

PR

Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel