Kevin Chan told The Globe and Mail that while the details and timing are still being worked out, the company is open to paying Canadian publishers for news that appears on its site.
Mr. Chan said this would likely be in the form of a new product on its platform and the payments would be in addition to its existing programs that support journalism in Canada, such as a $1-million fellowship that funds eight reporting positions for The Canadian Press news agency.
“We want to be investing even more in the news ecosystem in Canada. And that includes, I think, for 2021, exploring new things like news licensing,” Mr. Chan said. “We do want to support news and we want to support journalism because we care about it … . I think where news licensing can make sense and does make sense is where we’re licensing news content for some net new purpose.”
The comments come as Australia approved new legislation this week requiring social-media platforms to compensate publishers for news. The legislation passed after last-minute amendments that earned the support of Facebook, which had taken the dramatic step last week of shutting down news-sharing on its platform in Australia in response to the legislation. Facebook announced this week that it would end its Australian news ban, pursue licensing negotiations with publishers and would spend $1-billion worldwide over the next three years on journalism.
Australia’s News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code Bill received final approval Wednesday. The law sets up a system of “final offer” arbitration in which an independent body can resolve disagreements over compensation between platforms and publishers by choosing one of the offers presented by the two parties. The last-minute amendments to the bill essentially allow a social-media platform to operate outside of the new rules provided it has made “a significant contribution to the sustainability of the Australian news industry through reaching commercial agreements with news media businesses,” according to a statement by Australia’s communications minister Paul Fletcher.
Facebook’s move last week to shut down Australian news was strongly condemned at the time by Canadian Heritage Minister Stephen Guilbeault, who called it “highly irresponsible” and said Canada sides with Australia in standing up to “web giants” and would be introducing similar legislation this year. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday, when they agreed to co-operate on regulating online platforms and, according to Mr. Trudeau’s office, “agreed to continue co-ordinating efforts to address online harm and ensure the revenues of web giants are shared more fairly with creators and media.”
While Google also initially criticized the Australian law and threatened to shut down its search services in the country, it moved before Facebook to reach licensing deals with Australian publishers to pay for stories that will appear on its Google News Showcase website, which has already been launched in a handful of other countries.
Facebook has a similar product called Facebook News, which is available in the U.S. and some other countries. Mr. Chan said it was too soon to say what a licensing arrangement might look like in Canada.
Google spokesperson Lauren Skelly told The Globe and Mail the company is already in talks with Canadian publishers to negotiate licensing deals ahead of a planned Canadian launch of its news platform.
“News Showcase is not currently live in Canada, but we have already signed partnerships with Narcity Media and Village Media and are in active conversations with other Canadian publishers. We look forward to launching the product here soon.”
John Hinds, president and CEO of News Media Canada, which advocates on behalf of the print and digital-media industry, said his organization is supportive of the Australian model and is “pleased” to hear Canada is pursuing a similar approach. Some critics of the Australian developments argue the new deals are mostly benefiting large traditional publishers and not necessarily smaller newsrooms or startups.
“This can’t be an agreement for the big players,” said Mr. Hinds when asked about those concerns. “I think as an industry, we are very firm that this has to be a collective negotiation because we do need to protect small players and that’s certainly what we’ve stated to the government.”
Camille Gagné-Raynauld, a spokesperson for Mr. Guilbeault, said in an e-mail that the federal government commends Australia and Facebook “for their commitment towards finding a lasting solution.” She said the government is pursuing a “Made-in-Canada approach … that is sustainable for news publishers, small and large, digital platforms, and for the health of our democracy.”
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