Microsoft calls for Australia-style action forcing tech giants to pay for news

Microsoft (PA Archive)
15:28pm, Mon 22 Feb 2021
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Microsoft has leaned on the side of the press in an escalating debate over whether tech giants should be forced to pay news organisations for content.

The PC maker is backing an Australia-style system alongside Europe’s press publishers, in a bid to ensure they are fairly remunerated.

It follows Facebook’s decision to ban news from being shared on its platform in Australia last week, over a proposed law that would compel internet firms to pay news organisations.

The social network’s response has led to concern globally, including from the UK’s Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden, who is expected to meet Facebook executives to discuss the matter this week.

Taking inspiration from Australia, Microsoft, along with four EU news lobby groups, are calling for a mechanism to “mandate payments” and “to ensure that fair agreements are negotiated”.

“We welcome Microsoft’s recognition of the value that our content brings to the core businesses of search engines and social networks because this is where Google and Facebook generate the vast majority of their revenues,” said Christian Van Thillo, chairman of the European Publishers Council.

“It is crucial that our regulators recognise this key point, and don’t get misled into thinking that side deals on the basis of a stand-alone product are the same thing, because they are not at all and undermine the neighbouring rights that we have been granted.

“All publishers should get an agreement – no-one should be left out.”

Microsoft is working with the European Publishers Council, News Media Europe, the European Magazine Media Association and the European Newspaper Publishers’ Association.

The Daily Telegraph and The Times first reported that the culture secretary was due to hold talks with Facebook, with the latter quoting a source as saying Mr Dowden regards Facebook’s move as a “worrying development”.

Australian politicians are considering forcing digital businesses to reach paid-for-news agreements with media companies, with draft legislation that could create a so-called News Media Bargaining Code.

Downing Street has shared its concern over Facebook’s move, with the Prime Minister’s official spokesman saying the Government will be “robust in defending free speech and journalism”.

Fernando de Yarza, president of News Media Europe, said: “The experiences in France and Australia have shown us that there’s a real need for a binding instrument to address inherent imbalances in bargaining power with gatekeepers, which undermine the potential of Europe’s press sector.

“We look forward to working with Microsoft and others on a solution that allows for a healthy and diverse online news media ecosystem.”

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