Microsoft joins publisher coalition in push for tech giants to pay for news

Coalition working on legal solution that would mandate payments for use of content

Microsoft has joined an informal coalition with four European publisher lobbying groups to draft and propose regulations that “mandate payment” for news content by “gatekeepers that have dominant market power,”.

Microsoft and the European Publishers Council, News Media Europe, and the associations for European magazine and newspaper publishers hope the rules will be added to upcoming EU legislation concerning the big tech companies.

Microsoft and the publishers said on Monday that they would support a form of arbitration, and would look closely at the model developed in Australia, which prompted Google to strike a flurry of licensing deals and Facebook to stop sharing Australian news on its service.

Christian Van Thillo, a Belgian media executive who is chair of the European Publishers Council, welcomed “Microsoft’s recognition” of the value “our content brings to the core business of search engines and social networks.”

“It is crucial that our regulators recognize this key point, and don’t get misled into thinking that side deals on the basis of a standalone product are the same thing,” he said, adding: “All publishers should get an agreement — no one should be left out.”

Microsoft has offered vocal public support for the Australian reforms and has urged other governments to follow suit, much to the chagrin of its rivals.

Unveiling the project with European publishers, Casper Klynge, a vice-president of Microsoft, said access to quality news was “critical to the success of our democracies.”

The Australian system has caught the eye of regulators around the world, who are also looking for ways to empower publishers in licensing negotiations with Google and Facebook.

Canada is preparing Australia-style laws, and the EU and UK are seeking to import elements of the system into upcoming laws. It remains unclear whether the calculations of lawmakers have been changed by Facebook’s decision to boycott news in Australia.

EU governments are in the process of implementing a recent overhaul of copyright law, which strengthened the claim of publishers to seek compensation for the use of news snippets by Google.

But industry executives and some MEPs are concerned that the provisions, which do not include any arbitration system to resolve disputes, are too easy for Big Tech groups to sidestep. Google recently reached a licensing deal with French publishers, but paid much smaller sums than the settlements agreed with Australian publishers.

Fernando de Yarza, president of News Media Europe, said:

“The experiences in France and Australia have shown us that there’s a real need for a binding instrument.”

The Financial Times has reached commercial agreements for news with both Google and Facebook. The FT is not a member of any of the associations involved in the Microsoft initiative.

Google and Facebook both strongly criticize the Australian reforms as unworkable and unfair. Facebook had not commented on Microsoft’s initiative in Europe by the time of publication.

A Google spokesperson said:

“We already have hundreds of partnerships with news publishers large and small across Europe, making us one of the biggest funders of journalism.”

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