Skip to content

Should Big Tech pay for news? | Latest News India

India is considering new obligations for Big Tech companies such as Google and Facebook to pay publishers for the news content they reuse on their platform. The comments were made by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, the junior minister for Information Technology and electronics, in an interview earlier this month.

At present, India is among a handful of large democracies without such an obligation. Over the last five years, several nations and large blocs, such as the European Union and Australia, have backed this by statute, forcing internet giants to begin paying for content they use or enter into agreements with news publishers.

Largely, there seem to be two guiding principles for such measures that India can learn from.

A copyright issue

The first is an intellectual property perspective, which has been taken by the European Union Digital Single Market Copyright Directive. The directive, drawn up in 2019, requires so-called platforms above a certain user base (5 million active users) to pay news publishers, journalists, authors and even performers and musicians, remuneration for using their work.

A key aspect is the Copyright Directive’s Article 17, which lays down the need for prior authorization before copyright protected content is used by digital companies. But it is Article 15 that makes it mandatory for remuneration to publishers as it establishes what is known as “neighbouring rights”.

These “neighbouring rights” allow press publishers and original authors in EU member states to claim revenue from online internet companies, search engines and news aggregators for the use of press publications for two years from the date of online publishing.

An explanation note offered by the European Commission suggests that, like the Australian law, creating special rights for news publishers and journalists was deemed crucial, even though the approach was through a larger copyright perspective.

“By ensuring the sustainability of the press sector, the new right fosters plural, independent and high-quality media, which are essential for the freedom of expression and the right to information in our democratic society,” the note said.

Since it is a directive, EU member countries need to transpose it into their own legal framework. France was among the first to do so. Germany followed suit in 2020, as did the Netherlands (although the Dutch law is seen to contain some loopholes). In 2021, Italy and Spain also translated the directive into their own laws.

The move at first triggered attempts by companies to resist it. Google France, for instance, stopped carrying news from French publishers before the country’s competition regulator in stepped and slapped a $592 million fine (and an additional $900K for every day that it did not strike a remuneration deal).

Now, Google and Facebook have deals with news publishers in all EU nations that have adopted the directive as well as many others that haven’t but are planning to.

In public interest

A stronger position was taken by Australia which, in March 2021, adopted the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code. The law is meant to help local news publishers if tech companies reuse any content that “reports, investigates or explains issues or events of public significance”.

The move triggered a very public spat, most notably between Facebook and Australia when the social media company blocked users from posting links to any Australian news website. The spat came to an end after the government agreed to let Facebook demonstrate that it had paid local publishers adequately.

In an e-mail exchange, Rod Sims, the former chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which conceived the code and later oversaw its implementation, said all eligible media companies in the country now have a deal with one of the largest news aggregators, Google.

“Google have in the last month done a deal with another 24 small publishers, so that they have now, in effect, done deals with all eligible media companies. A great result,” he said, adding the $200 million per annum “is flowing to media companies and many more journalists are being hired”.

Sims added that Australia did not go with the “copyright route as copyright in Australia is very difficult”.

Similarly, Canada is considering a legislation known as the Online News Act, which was introduced in April this year. The law, if enacted in its current shape, will force digital media companies to negotiate deals with Canadian media outlets for reusing their content, aiming to address the disparity in advertising market share between publishers and the tech giants.

What India can learn from these

Tech companies have already struck some deals with publishers. Google, for instance, has signed up deals amounting to over a billion dollars with publishers around the world to bring them on board their News Showcase feature. But such initiatives are voluntary and arbitrary. And the value of individual deals, especially in India, is low.

There is justification to the companies’ defense that when they showcase content from publishers, it helps drive the latter’s traffic and popularity. But there are equally valid counterfactuals too: the content they host also benefits them by boosting user engagement (and thus, their revenue), and that Big Tech has an outsized control of the digital advertising market.

In May, American lawmakers introduced a law to force Google’s parent Alphabet and Facebook’s Meta to break up their advertising businesses, which many say has become one of the largest monopolies as these companies dominate the automated advertisement buy-sell mechanism that is at the heart of digital revenues.

“While the platforms may have invented a superior advertising model, however, they were not producing journalism. All that was happening was less journalism, not better journalism,” Sims added.

The EU example demonstrates there is a case to be made for fair payment for use of copyrighted content, while Australia’s officials have been significantly more blunt about the problem: public interest dictates that remuneration for bodies that carry out journalism, a core public interest service, must be protected.

These are examples of immense value to India because the debate around tech platforms being obliged to pay for the content they use stops at two cogent principles: respecting intellectual property and protecting public interest.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.