SYDNEY, June 25 (Reuters) – Australia’s competition watchdog is examining a claim that Facebook Inc (FB.O) refused a publisher’s request to negotiate a licensing deal, the regulator told Reuters , setting the stage for the world’s first toughest test. online content law.
The Conversation, which posts comments on the news by academics, said it has asked Facebook to start talks under new Australian law that requires social media company and Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) Google to negotiate content supply agreements with the media.
Facebook refused without giving a reason, The Conversation said, even though the publisher was among the first in Australia to strike a similar deal with Google ahead of the law in 2020.
Hindsight could present the first test of a controversial mechanism unique to Australia’s efforts to recoup advertising dollars from Google and Facebook: If they refuse to negotiate license fees with publishers, a government-appointed arbitrator can intervene.
In a statement responding to questions from Reuters, Andrew Hunter, Facebook’s head of news partnerships for Australia, said the company was “focused on getting business deals with a range of Australian publishers.”
Hunter did not respond to specific questions regarding The Conversation, but said Facebook is planning a separate initiative “to support Australian regional, rural and digital newsrooms and public service journalism in the coming months.” without giving details.
“If Google made a deal with them, I don’t see how Facebook could claim they shouldn’t,” said Rod Sims, chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), in an interview.
“The question of the designation may have to come into play,” he noted, using the term to designate an arbitrator.
Under the law, the decision to nominate a Big Tech firm for the intervention was made by the treasurer, who is advised by ACCC, Sims noted, but “an absolute ‘no’ for an organization that should get a deal is something we’re going to find out about. “
The conversation was “exactly what we had in mind with the Code,” he said, although the situation may have changed before further action was taken.
Governments around the world are introducing laws to force tech giants to compensate media companies for links that drive readers – and ad revenue – to their platforms. But Australia is the only country where the government can set fees if negotiations fail, a factor that prompted Facebook to block news feeds in the country just before its adoption. Read more
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who negotiated earlier this year with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the laws, was not immediately available for comment.
“CLEAR YOUR HEAD”
Since the law came into effect, a handful of the country’s biggest media players, from News Corp (NWSA.O) to the Australian Broadcasting Corp, have struck deals with the tech giants.
But some small independent publishers whose content attracts four-fifths of Australia’s 25 million people to the Facebook site said the law had created a two-tier industry where rival titles owned by large parent companies have made deals while others have failed.
Nelson Yap, editor of the Australian Property Journal, which is on a government registry of media companies covered by the law, said he was in talks with Google but sent two emails to Facebook without a response.
He said he had read Facebook’s public statements about discussions with editors and “I’m sitting here, who with? Not with us. Despite our efforts, we heard nothing. what to do next. “
A Facebook spokesperson did not respond to any questions about contacts with the Property Journal. Country Press Australia, a regional newspaper industry group, said it was engaging in constructive discussions with Facebook on behalf of 140 publishers.
Conversation editor Misha Ketchell said that “we are obviously disappointed that we have not been able to enter into negotiations with Facebook so far, but we remain optimistic about the possibility of reaching a deal.”
The ACCC Sims said the deal pipeline has “gotten quieter than I expected,” but urged small publishers to be patient.
“On the one hand, I’m afraid that people will not get a response to emails, on the other hand, I’ve seen it before, then things change and deals are made,” he said. .
Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Kim Coghill
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