The Future of Newspapers Pt. 3: How Big Tech is Responding to Sharing Revenue

The Online News Act (ONA) in Canada received Royal Assent on June 22, forcing digital platforms – such as Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, and Google – to negotiate with Canadian news organizations to share revenue. In response, Meta and Google threatened to remove Canadian news content from their platforms.

The Canadian law calls upon the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to create regulations and a timeline to allow eligible news organizations to bargain with digital platforms. This process is supposed to take place over the next six months.

Canada’s ONA is similar to the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) here in the United States, which passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 15. Both acts are designed to respond to decreasing advertising revenue in print news, much of which now goes to search engines and social media platforms, which people increasingly use to access their news.

Meta and Google are threatening to remove United States news content if the JCPA becomes law, similar to their actions in Canada. 

Rachel Curran, the head of public policy for Meta Canada, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that Meta would not negotiate within the framework of the ONA, adding there were no ongoing negotiations with the Canadian government.

“There’s nothing at this point that can address our fundamental concerns with the bill, which is that it requires us to compensate news publishers for placing material on our platforms voluntarily, because they get a tremendous amount of free marketing and distribution value from that,” Curran said.

Kent Walker, the president of global affairs for Google and Alphabet, wrote on the company’s Canada Blog to call the legislation “unworkable,” adding they would follow Facebook in removing Canadian news from the platform. Walker did not offer a timeline on when this might take effect.

“We have now informed the Government that when the law takes effect, we unfortunately will have to remove links to Canadian news from our Search, News and Discover products in Canada, and that [the ONA] will also make it untenable for us to continue offering our Google News Showcase product in Canada,” Walker wrote.

If Meta and Google follow through and remove all Canadian news content, then popular platforms such as the CBC and Global News will be inaccessible on social media platforms and search engines that millions of people use. This could apply to whole sites, not just designated news sections of their platforms, such as Facebook News or Google News.

Both laws in the United States and Canada follow the framework of the News Media Bargaining Code in Australia. When that law passed, Facebook briefly removed Australian news content. Days later, the Australian government and Meta announced a revenue sharing agreement with news publishers. 

Sue Gardner, a former Executive Director of the Wikimedia Foundation, spoke to CBC Radio about the ONA. Gardner noted the bill was drafted under the assumption that Google and Meta would cooperate with negotiations. Without the companies complying with the law, Gardner argues the legislation could do more harm than good.

“The companies really feel like [sharing revenue] is something they are not willing to do,” Gardner said. “Their services are predicated on, and the entire Internet is predicated on, the idea that everybody links freely to everything. And so if there’s this new provision that the bill introduced, saying that linking is going to cost you money, then the business models of those companies come into question.”

Google said they will remove news in Canada when the ONA fully takes effect, which is supposed to happen by the end of 2023. Meta announced on June 1 that they would test ending news availability to “a small percentage” of Facebook users in Canada.