Facebook Caves To Australia: Will Restore Links After Government Gives It More Time To Negotiate Paying For News Links

from the still-not-great dept

Facebook is restoring news links in Australia after the government agreed to amend the proposed link tax law. We’ll explain the details down below, but at the very least, this shows part of the reason Facebook did what it did, when it did. The end result still sucks, and I wish Facebook had stood its ground here because this portends a significant closing off of the open internet.

Many of the people who were annoyed over my support of Facebook’s decision last week to block all news links in Australia kept saying “but the law hasn’t passed yet — why would they do this now?” Except… that ignored the reality of the situation. Facebook had announced last summer that it would remove links to all news if the law wasn’t changed. And the Australian Parliament mocked Facebook and refused to make any changes to the law — which was set to pass this week.

So, Facebook showed that it was serious about what it said last September, and it did so days before the law was supposed to pass… and now the Australian government has agreed to make changes. So, Facebook did get something out of making the move last week. Unfortunately, they didn’t get nearly enough, and the end result is a disaster for the open web, but good for Rupert Murdoch.

The law is still really bad. The only major difference is that Facebook gets a little more time to cut a deal with Murdoch and other Australian news org owners:

But on Monday, the Australian government added amendments to the proposed code. That included a two-month mediation period, giving the two sides more time to negotiate commercial deals that could help Facebook avoid having to work under the code?s provisions.

In exchange, Facebook agreed to restore news links and articles for Australian users ?in the coming days,? according to a statement from Josh Frydenberg, Australia?s treasurer, and Paul Fletcher, the minister for communications, infrastructure, cities and the arts.

?Importantly, the amendments will strengthen the hand of regional and small publishers in obtaining appropriate remuneration for the use of their content by the digital platforms,? the statement added.

Campbell Brown, Facebook?s vice president of global news partnerships, said in a statement, ?We?re restoring news on Facebook in Australia in the coming days. Going forward, the government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won?t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation.?

I honestly don’t know what this actually means for the future of the law, but it still looks like a mess. Having Facebook pay for any links to news articles should be a non-starter. It is fundamentally against the idea of an open web. People who keep insisting that this is not a “tax” or that it’s somehow about “competition” are wrong and fundamentally misrepresenting what is happening here. Yes, Facebook and Google are big. Yes, if there were negotiating a deal they would have leverage. But — and here’s the important part — there’s nothing to negotiate over here, because there’s no requirement anywhere to pay for links, because that’s fundamentally stupid and against the idea of an open internet.

So, those who keep saying this is necessary because without it the media organizations in Australia “don’t have bargaining power” against Google and Facebook are simply missing the point. I mean, those same media organizations do have bargaining power with a site like, let’s say, Techdirt. I link to them sometimes. They’re a hell of a lot bigger than me. So, does this mean that I should be able to go to the Australian Competition authority and demand they make News Corp pay me when I link to them? That makes no sense at all. There should never need to be any negotiation or any discussion about bargaining power over links because links are fundamentally free.

And, yet, the end result of this deal is that it sounds like Facebook is effectively caving and agreeing to pay for links. The “compromise” appears to be just that Facebook gets a few more months to negotiate what it will pay (and if those negotiations fail, Australian arbitrators will simply choose how much it pays). This remains a very bad and dangerous idea, that is going to lead to a big mess around the globe. Lots of other industries are going to start demanding payments for links as well, and it puts the fundamental nature of the open internet under attack.

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Companies: facebook, news corp

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Comments on “Facebook Caves To Australia: Will Restore Links After Government Gives It More Time To Negotiate Paying For News Links”

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47 Comments
USA Lover says:

Re: Nuke Australia Now

GOOD!!! I APPLAUD Australia for having the guts to challenge Facebook!! Facebook should be paying for ALL news! ALL of it in the entire world!!
Facebook is a censoring publisher hiding behind its platform and clearly does not represent free speech. AND they have gotten a free ride for too long!
I look forward to seeing Facebook crash and burn – they deserve no less!!

FreeSpeech ❤️????????

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Just to be clear, they want to charge money for just a link, no actual news. I do not understand what they are being charged for.

Does this mean that eventually anyone surfing the web will have to pay for each and every time they go to some website?

This has red flags all over it. If I have to pay to go to some website, I’m guessing there will still be ads.

Can I request Facebook remove all news from what FB presents to me? Because I am not interested in any news from FB and I do not wish to pay for it.

Vermont IP Lawyer (profile) says:

Question about Australian Law

I haven’t tried to read this pending Australian law and I have a question for anyone who has. Consider the scenario where Facebook tried to n egotiate a fee, the negotiation fails, and an arbitrator then determines the fee. Maybe the ultimate number is one that, as a business matter, Facebook decides it can live with. But suppose the number is one that Facebook finds intolerable. Wny cannot it, at that later point, return to the Nuclear option, e.g., refusing to post or allow posting of anything that would make it subject to the fee?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Question about Australian Law

Said law forbidding it but there is nothing stopping them from deciding to go Hydrogen Bomb option in response (pulling out entirely, firing all of Australia’s branch and dissolving their company – flipping both birds optional).

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Question about Australian Law

They can leave australia, but they weather they still on the hook for the 300 million gazillion that the "arbitrator" decided or not will be a different matter. Australia they will still have to pay. Whether australia can enforce that or not depends on outside factors and might up an international dispute I’d guess?.

Vermont IP Lawyer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Question about Australian Law

I get that answer in the wierd corner case where the arbitrator imposes a large one-time fee (or maybe a large fee covering the next N years). At that point, Anonymous Coward’s analysis seems right–they’d have to pay or they’d have to 100% exit Australia. Whether or not the fee would still be enforceable via some internation agreement is beyond my expertise.

But, suppose the arbitrator imposes a pay-per-use fee, measured, somehow, based on the amount of conmtent to which they link. Unless that fee has some obnoxious minimum, even when they link to zero content, seems like the nuclear option would remain available.

I guess Facebook has some significant legal talent trying to game through these scenarios.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Question about Australian Law

I mean, I suppose Facebook could choose the nuke it from orbit option and leave entirely, but were I an australian politician I wouldn’t be worrying about that in the slightest at this point as Facebook has shown that their ‘we’ll totally pull links’ thing was nothing but a bluff/bargaining trick, and the risk of bluffing is that if you’re called on it and shown to be bluffing it severely undercuts your bargaining position in the future.

I guess Facebook has some significant legal talent trying to game through these scenarios.

In which case every last one of them needs to be fired, because it should have been blindingly obvious that caving once will ensure that more countries will start demanding ‘their’ cut, such that they’d have been much better off sticking to their guns here and letting the publishers fold as they have every time in the past.

That’s what really gets me in this whole thing, I could almost see Facebook being unfamiliar with history but Google has no excuse being as they were directly involved. Past instances of this type of extortion have made clear that the publishers know full well how valuable links and snippets are to them, so pull those and it’s only a matter of time until they come crawling back begging to be re-listed, however this time around neither Google or Facebook had the endurance to outlast the publishers and will be paying for it, both immediately and in the long-term in other countries.

crade (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Question about Australian Law

It’s more like they will need to make sure that they tailor those arbitrator decisions such that they will bleed facebook the right amount to get the most money out of them without forcing their hand. Facebook will certainly leave if they have to.

The bluff part comes in that they aren’t actually willing to do it just out of principle for the benefit of humanity or whatever to prevent the risk of this cascading and becoming unsustainable later, but that doesn’t mean they won’t leave if they actually start losing money

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bloof (profile) says:

Oh boy, now look for laws like this to be repeated anywhere Rupert Murdoch has influence. Fox News ratings down? Fox news as appealing to advertisers as live footage of a colonoscopy? No problem! Make Facebook and Google pay every time they list a video in their search results or someone posts a link to one.

Looks like Neo Newscorp’s business model is affixing itself to more successful entities like a tick that makes racist comments.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

First you go after the large targets, once you get them to surrender then it’s much easier to coerce the smaller ones as they lack the same resources to fight back and the precedent has already been set. After getting both Google and Facebook to cave it’s not will other platforms be extorted in the future but when, so you can be sure that it’s only a matter of time until more demands for payment are sent out.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

What one amendment can give another can take away/override.

Based upon my limited understanding which sites are covered under the law is determined by a government agency/individual, who barring explicit langauge in the bill making clear that only Google and Facebook have to pay out could decide in the future that other sites should really be paying their share as well.

Even if that language is in the bill or an amendment however there’s always the chance to build upon the precedent set a few years down the line when link-taxes have been normalized and the parasites benefiting from them start eyeing more free money, so even if it might currently only target two companies I wouldn’t bet on it staying that way.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Oh look, a second idiot

Welp, they sure as hell just ensured that they’ll be seeing a lot more of these laws, and just like Google I will have absolutely no sympathy if they end up paying out significant percentages of their revenue because they just sold out the internet as a whole since you can be damn sure that once they see they can get the big players to cave the parasites will be eyeing everyone smaller.

Vermont IP Lawyer (profile) says:

Re: Nondiscrimination Aspect

Doubtful. I found a draft version of the law from last year online (not the current version). It has major penalties for trying to circumvent the operation of the law. Guessing that part has not changed. If Facebook was willing to close down in-person operations in Australia, and access that market solely via the Internet, Australia might have a struggle to enforce the sanctions in the law but, if you are Facebook, that’s playing with fire.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Unless they changed it since then from what I understand they saw that one coming and made it so that it’s either all or nothing, either Facebook and Google allow/use all links/snippets to news agencies, in which case they pay for the australian ones(and the others as soon as the other publishers realize that both companies have caved) or they allow/use none, no middle ground allowed.

Barry Minchio says:

To Techdirt. FACEBOOK WANTED THIS LAW

The reason Facebook wanted this law was because it gave them the perfect excuse as to why there raising the price on ads. They did not ever want the government to interfere as to what price facebook would have to pay but on the contrary FACEBOOK WON.

Now they have a good excuse as to why advertising your small business on Facebook is more expensive and they can freely negotiate the price of news without the government setting the price for Facebook which they got a win on by the way. Wait till they get to smaller social media websites like Reddit and boing boing.

To be crystal clear. FACEBOOK WON TECHDIRT. They want to put there competitors out of business and once this law expands to them. THEY WILL

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: To Techdirt. FACEBOOK WANTED THIS LAW

Yeah right. Just as if this law was passed in the early 200s it would have applied to MySpace and never any smaller sites like Facebook and Twitter…

If you believe that, you might not understand how these things change as the market does, and how easy a law written to attack one group can be changed to attack another.

Anonymous Wimp says:

Be interesting to see how the legislation changes. The minister has made it clear that the goal is not to enforce the law but for Google and FB to do deals with the media. If they both do deals then the law has no effect and they sidestep the nasty part of giving the media companies effective control of their algorithms.

It is likely that every other country will copy this and they will be forced to do similar deals in every country. They will probably proactive and make deals to stop governments writing their own versions of terrible legislation.

In any case, the media companies have all given the power to the tech companies who will have super news platforms that aggregate content from all media providers providing a one stop shop. Once all the eyeballs move to the aggregators they will have complete control and be able to tweak their algorithms as they want. For example, they could go full anti-Rupert and bury News Corp content below everyone else so at the end of 3 years they can say that nobody reads their content so it is worth a lot less. Super news platforms will definitely kill paywalls and remove alternate revenue streams from the media companies.

This block by Facebook was a huge opportunity for media companies who saw huge growth of direct visitors. Their greed to get something for nothing from FB has caused them to relentlessly pursue this, when giving their readers back to FB is the opposite of what they should be doing.

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