Meta Threatens To Block News Access If C-18 Bill Passes

Meta says it would end news access on its platforms for Canadians if the country passes legislation requiring companies like Meta and Alphabet parent Google to pay news outlets for linking to news articles, PCMag reported. The original source of this information appears to be Reuters (who put it behind a paywall).

According to PCMag, Meta has criticized the planned legislation, the Online News Act (Bill C-18), for compelling it to pay for content it does not post but is instead shared by its users.

C-18 is titled: “An Act respecting online communications platforms that make news content available to persons in Canada”. The sponsor of this bill is Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Here is the summary portion of the bill:

This enactment regulates digital news intermediaries to enhance fairness in the Canadian digital news marketplace and contribute to its sustainability. It establishes a framework through which digital news intermediary operators and news businesses may enter into agreements respecting news content that is made available by digital news intermediaries. The framework takes into account principles of freedom of expression and journalistic independence.

The enactment includes a long list of items – here are some of them:

  • Applies in respect of a digital news intermediary if, having regard to specific factors, there is a significant bargaining power imbalance between its operator and news businesses;
  • Requires the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission… to maintain a list of digital news intermediaries in respect of which the enactment applies;
  • Establishes a bargaining process in respect of matters related to the making available of certain news content by digital news intermediaries;
  • Requires the Commission to establish a code of conduct respecting bargaining in relation to news content;
  • Requires the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to provide the Commission with an annual report if the Corporation is a party to an agreement with an operator;
  • Authorizes the Commission to impose, for contraventions of the enactment, administrative monetary penalties on certain individuals and entities and conditions on the participation of news business in the bargaining process;
  • Establishes a mechanism for the recovery, from digital news intermediary operators, of certain costs related to the administration of the enactment;

PCMag reported that in its protests against the Canadian legislation, Meta has stressed that news content is neither the main reason people use its platforms nor does it represent a significant revenue source for the company. Meta has also criticized the legislation for not reflecting the interests of small independent media outlets that benefit from the sharing of the news content.

Speaking to Reuters, Meta spokesperson Lisa Laventure said: “A legislative framework that compels us to pay for links or content that we do not post, and which are not the reason the vast majority of people use our platforms, is neither sustainable nor workable.”

The Star reported that tech giants like Meta and Google have long fought against the proposed law known as Bill C-18, which would require digital giants such as Meta and Google to negotiate deals that would compensate Canadian media companies for linking to or otherwise repurposing their content online. 

Large Canadian media companies and the federal Liberal government have supported the bill, saying it would level the playing field for news outlets that compete with tech firms for advertising dollars. 

Several years ago, I wrote on Geek News Central that the Australian federal government asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to create a mandatory code of conduct that would require companies like Google and Facebook to pay media companies for news.

A few months later, Facebook rejected the proposal to share advertising revenue with Australian news organizations, saying that there would “not be significant” impacts on its business if it stopped sharing news altogether. Several months later, Facebook reversed its block on Australian users sharing news on its site after the government agreed to make amendments to the proposed bargaining laws that would force tech giants to pay news outlets for their content.

I fully expect the same shenanigans to happen as Meta and Google push back against paying news organizations for their content that is shared on Meta and/or Google’s services.