UK government to insist Google and Facebook pay up for news content

The UK government is planning to introduce Australian-style regulations that will force social media companies like Facebook and Google to pay newspapers for using their stories.

The platforms will be asked to negotiate payment deals with news organisations and if an agreement can’t be reached then a price will be set by an independent arbitrator.

The Australian initiative sparked a war of words between the tech giants with Facebook blocking all news content to Australians. It only reversed its decision after robust negotiations with the government.

Meanwhile Google had threatened to withdraw its primary search engine from Australia, before ultimately agreeing deals with local media companies including Nine Entertainment, Seven West Media and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

Part of the tech companies’ fears at the time was that if executed the Australian legislation, which was passed into law in February 2021, would inspire copycat laws across the globe. This appears to have been realised and could now inspire other countries to follow suit

The only comment from the tech companies about the UK move has come from Facebook which insists it already works to help publishers by paying tens of millions of pounds to the press to be a part of Facebook News.

The plans are part of proposed legislation created by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries. The move follows other recent government announcements about the media including a plan to shelve the licence fee that currently funds the BBC.

Once the legislation has been finalised it will be regulated by the Digital Markets Unit (DMU), the digital watchdog set up as part of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

A source at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport told the Mail on Sunday  “The new regime will be an important vehicle to tackle the imbalance of power between the largest platforms and publishers.

“The measures would give publishers greater transparency over the algorithms that drive traffic and revenue, more control over the presentation and branding of their content, as well as greater access to data on how users interact with their content.”

There is clearly an imbalance in digital advertising in the UK with Google and Facebook taking almost four-fifths of the £14 billion spent on digital advertising in the UK in 2019,  compared with national and local newspapers who took less than four per cent.

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