News Media Code a Bad Bargain

On July 31st, the Australian Competition and Consume Commission (ACCC) under instructions from the Australian Government released draft legislation to address bargaining power imbalances between Australian news media businesses and online digital platforms, specifically Google and Facebook.[1] Pirate Party Australia finds little to support in this legislation, and much of concern.

This code has provoked outcry from business advocates, but also those two platforms themselves with Facebook claiming publishers would be able to “charge us for as much content as they want at a price with no clear limits”[2] and Google claiming “The law would force us to give an unfair advantage to one group of businesses – news media businesses – over everyone else who has a website, YouTube channel or small business”[3] and it is an “unfair arbitration process that ignores the real-world value Google provides to news publishers and opens up to enormous and unreasonable demands.”[4] There is are elements of hyperbole and truth in these claims, and Google is correct in noting that only large businesses with a turnover of at least $150,000 would be able eligible to participate in this arbitration.[4]

Two years ago, we supported digital right activists as European Pirates[5] and digital platforms[6] stood side by side to oppose the European Union’s “link tax” which would see a draconian copyright regime be imposed on hyperlinks and undermine the fundamental building blocks of the open web. The Australian Pirate Party also considers the use of article snippets to be “fair use” for all, a concept we and numerous economists have argued for strongly but continues to be blocked by the Liberal National Party and Australian Labor Party.

Elements of the ACCC’s Code bears a stark resemblance to the link tax, which we oppose most strongly and support Google in demanding the ACCC ensure that any not for profit application of fair use content be done so without charge, levy or fee.

If a digital platform profits off content they did not produce, and does not fall under fair use, creators must be awarded moral rights and a fair portion of revenue. We don’t consider Facebook or Google to do this meaning the legislation runs the risk of creating a government supported zombie business model as the income of legacy news media organisations continues to crumble in the digital age.

Free and open access to information is a direct threat to those in positions of power, and an “excerpt tax” levied on digital platforms in Australia to support undemocratic fear mongering must be abandoned as the corporatist rent seeking the Coalition continues to adopt as its sole electoral policy.