Big Tech Blinks: Google, Facebook Scramble for Australian News Content Deals

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Glen Carrie via Unsplash

The demand by Australia’s conservative coalition government that Google and Facebook pay for content is drawing results, with the tech giants revealing Monday they are close to deals with major news providers.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said talks with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai had made “great progress” in resolving a standoff being closely watched around the world.

As Breitbart News reported, the rush to come to agreements follows the decision Friday by Australian lawmakers to enable world-first legislation that will make Alphabet’s Google and Facebook pay local publishers for news content.

The new media code, which Google has complained is “unworkable,” makes Australia the first country to challenge the market dominance of the U.S. tech giants.

The companies previously threatened to partially withdraw services from the country if the rules become law, sparking a war of words with Canberra.

But that disagreement appeared to ease Monday, with Frydenberg revealing the companies “made great progress over the course of the weekend”.

“I think we’re very close to some very significant commercial deals,” he said, “and in doing so that will transform the domestic media landscape.”

The agreements could be enough to see Facebook and Google avoid the most severe parts of the legislation — including binding arbitration to ensure they are not using their online advertising duopoly to dictate terms in deals with media companies.

Last month Google threatened to withdraw its services altogether if Canberra went ahead with the proposal, prompting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to say his government would not yield.

“We don’t respond to threats. Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia,” Morrison said. “That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”

At the same time other operators including Microsoft have been quick to offer to step in and fill the gap, with Microsoft pushing its Bing search engine as a gap filler if Facebook and Google abandon the market in Australia.

The Australian Parliament is scheduled to consider the new legislation on Tuesday and the Morrison government hopes it will be approved during the coming two-week sitting.

Google has faced pressure from authorities elsewhere to pay for news.

Last month, it signed a deal with a group of French publishers, paving the way for the company to make digital copyright payments.

Under the agreement, Google will negotiate individual licensing deals with newspapers, with payments based on factors such as the amount published daily and monthly internet site traffic.

Microsoft President Brad Smith on Friday called for the United States and the rest of the world to consider following Australia’s lead as more countries push back against the market dominance of Big Tech players.

AP, AFP contributed to this story

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