Creating level playing field
At a time when the global technology giants are facing the heat over privacy issues, there is a growing moral argument that they should be made to pay the media companies for the reuse of the news content on their platforms and also share advertising revenues with the local publishers. At present, Google and Facebook corner the bulk of online advertising revenues leaving a pittance for news producers. There is a strong case for equitable sharing of revenues. The recent agreement reached by Google with French news publishers to pay them for the use of online content reflects a big breakthrough and sets a benchmark for other countries. The 2019 European Union copyright rules, which formed the basis for the media publications to secure royalties for online use of their content, must be studied by India so that a similar model can be replicated here. In fact, Australia was the first country to formulate a code in this regard last year. The data protection bill, now being fine-tuned, must incorporate appropriate guidelines regarding the responsibilities of digital service providers to press publications. As the technology of the digital platforms has evolved, so too has their market dominance. Creating a mandatory code for revenue sharing ensures a level playing field. It is all about the relative market power of the news companies and the tech behemoths.
There is no doubt that the news companies and digital platforms need each other. Google and Facebook are gateways to the internet for distribution of news content beyond the geographical boundaries of the domestic publisher. This certainly benefits publishers as the technology platforms send readers back to the news websites. At the same time, these platforms also need news. The users would find Google or Facebook far less helpful if no news appeared on their feeds or in their search results. Last April, France's competition watchdog ordered Google to negotiate with local media firms to pay for reusing their content. The move followed a national law to transpose a pan-EU copyright reform that intended to extend publisher rights to news snippets. Before the new EU rules, Google had worked around attempts by countries like Spain and Germany to force it to compensate publishers. However, a consensus is now building globally about the need to end the duopoly of Google and Facebook. The debate over the need for compensation from tech giants for reusing and indirect monetisation of others' editorial content - by displaying snippets of news stories on their platforms- is not a new one. The coronavirus crisis appeared to have infused a sense of urgency among policymakers in some countries to help the media companies which are staring down the barrel of severe revenue crunch.