A Canadian news industry advocacy group says that Canada would do well to follow France’s example in forcing internet search giant Google Inc. to pay news publishers for their content.
But News Media Canada chief executive John Hinds said Thursday that the federal government will need to take a leadership role if the power dynamic between Google and publishers is to be changed.
Hinds was reacting to a ruling by France’s competition regulator — the Autorité de la concurrence — which on Thursday gave Google three months to hammer out deals to pay publishers for displaying their content after finding that the country’s press sector was facing “serious and immediate harm,” according to Reuters.
“To me, this is an important victory symbolically, because it shows everybody that there is a way to do this. But it also shows that the way to do this is you need government to take a firm hand and to show some leadership on this,” Hinds told the Financial Post.
“This happened because the EU and the national governments in Europe enacted legislation to make it happen; I think that’s one of the lessons we have to take from this.”
The Competition Bureau, the regulatory agency that would have direct remit over this issue in Canada, said in an emailed statement that it is aware of the French ruling.
“We closely follow developments and enforcement actions related to the investigations of our international counterparts, particularly those related to the digital economy which is a priority for the Bureau,” the agency said.
“In doing so, we remain mindful of the different legal regimes in each jurisdiction. Regarding the conduct in question, it would be inappropriate for the Bureau to speculate as to whether it may represent a contravention of the Competition Act. The Bureau must conduct a thorough and complete examination of the facts before deciding whether to challenge any type of alleged conduct.”
In response to a request for comment, Google addressed the French ruling but did not say how the decision would affect how they do business with news publishers globally.
“Since the European copyright law came into force in France last year, we have been engaging with publishers to increase our support and investment in news,” Richard Gingras, vice-president for Google News, said in a statement. “We will comply with the FCA’s order while we review it and continue those negotiations.”
The French ruling concluded that because news publishers are so heavily reliant on traffic from Google, they do not have a choice about accepting Google’s terms when it comes to displaying news content.
European regulators have been particularly aggressive when it comes to enforcement action against big tech, and Google in particular.
In 2018, Google was fined 4.3 billion euros for bundling its Google Chrome browser with its Android operating system, and last year the company was fined 1.5 billion euros for abusing its market dominance with its AdSense business.
Hinds said he’s hopeful regulators will take action to address Google’s dominant position in North America as well.
He said it is essential for news publishers to find meaningful revenues online. Hinds said the collapse in advertising rates in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic, at a time when people are reading news sites at higher rates than ever, highlights the problem.
“I think it’s a fundamental thing: We need to be paid for our content. We need to be compensated,” Hinds said.
“You’ve seen advertising drop 60 or 70 per cent, and who knows when those revenues are going to come back. So now more than ever I think there’s a need to transition to the digital world, and if you can’t secure a revenue source in a digital world, it doesn’t bode well for the future of the medium.”