Op-ed: News publishers need federal legislation passed by June

A new op-ed written by Jamie Irving and Paul Deegan, and published in The Hill Times, urges the Prime Minister to follow through on his campaign promise to introduce legislation to compel tech giants to fairly compensate publishers for their content.

The full text of the op-ed in below:

During the 2021 federal election campaign, the Liberal Party of Canada, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s leadership, pledged to “Introduce legislation, within 100 days, that would require digital platforms that generate revenues from the publication of news content to share a portion of their revenues with Canadian news outlets. This legislation would be based on the Australian model and level the playing field between global platforms and Canadian news outlets.”

That commitment, along with similar commitments from other federal parties, was welcome news to an industry that has seen more than 80 per cent of advertising revenues diverted to web giants. And the COVID-19 pandemic is only compounding this market failure.

Under the legislation, Canadian news publishers would be permitted to negotiate collectively with web giants, namely Google and Meta (i.e., Facebook), in order to be compensated fairly for the use of their copyrighted content. If negotiations do not lead to an agreement, baseball-style final offer arbitration would determine a settlement.

Both Google and Meta came out swinging against the Australian legislation. Earlier this year, the head of Google in Australia and New Zealand said, “It would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia.” Facebook added, “People and news organisations in Australia are now restricted from posting news links and sharing or viewing Australian and international news content on Facebook. Globally, posting and sharing news links from Australian publishers is also restricted.”

These tactics were not appreciated by Australians. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated, “We will not be intimidated by Big Tech seeking to pressure our Parliament as it votes on our important News Media Bargaining Code. Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing.”

Good on the Australians for sticking to their principles. Since the passage of legislation in that country, many publishers, including smaller publishers, have concluded meaningful agreements with Google and Facebook.

With the prospect of Canada following Australia’s example, Google and Meta reached out to number of Canada’s larger news publishers. According to the U.K.-based Press Gazette, “There is some evidence to suggest that the threat of this legislation is already paying off for Canadian publishers…Google, perhaps in anticipation of Ottawa’s crackdown, has already started offering more generous payments for signing up to [Google] News Showcase.”

While those agreements are a needed shot in the arms for the industry’s biggest players, they are short-term in nature and renewal will surely not be on the same terms if Parliament does not pass legislation soon. As for smaller publishers that serve local communities across the country, their phones aren’t ringing.

Google and Meta are key parts of the news ecosystem, and they have important roles to play going forward. It is in their self-interest to have rich, trusted content that our journalists produce. But they can’t just take it because of their dominant position in the marketplace; they have to pay for it.

The Liberal Party platform made just a few 100-day legislative pledges: reforms to mandatory minimum sentencing; 10 days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers; reforming the Broadcasting Act; strengthening official languages; combatting online harm, levelling the playfield between news publishers and Big Tech; and eliminating converstion therapy.

Canada’s news publishers are facing an existential threat, and we fully expect the Liberal government to fulfill their election promise and introduce Australian-style legislation by February 3rd. After an acrimonious 43rd Parliament and an equally acrimonious 2021 federal election campaign, we are calling on parliamentarians, from all parties, to pass this urgently needed legislation by June. Publishers large and small want the right to come together so we can reach fair agreements to level the playing field with web giants.

Publishers throughout the Americas and around the globe are paying careful attention to Canada. They see Canada as a forward-looking democracy, and they are counting on us to show the world how a high-quality, fiercely independent, and commercially viable news publishing sector can thrive along with a vibrant open web.