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Monday, 21 December 2020 08:20

News media code: ball firmly in Federal Govt's court

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News media code: ball firmly in Federal Govt's court Image by hansmarkutt from Pixabay

The next move in the battle over the news media code lies with the government, after Google essentially said on Friday that nothing in the law that was introduced in Parliament on 9 December was workable.

The pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is all the more because of the tough talk they indulged in before the law was brought into Parliament.

What adds to the problems faced by the government is the fact that Google's denunciation of the proposed law came after three major concessions were made to the digital platforms before the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code was presented to Parliament.

Among the concessions was the time interval for informing publishers about algorithm changes; allowing digital platforms to factor in the value of the service they provide to a news organisation in monetary terms before the quantum of payment is decided; and applying the law only to Google Search and Facebook's NewsFeed. Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have been left out.

Frydenberg and Morrison have been hyping up the proposed law as being a first among countries that are thinking of such legislation, crowing that Australia is leading the world in this respect.

Google's bosses are aware that many other countries are looking on and will use whatever becomes law as a model to create their own legislation. Thus, it is in the interests of the company that the rap on knuckles that it will have to take should be the gentlest possible.

It may seem improbable, with three anti-trust cases filed against it in the US, that Google still has the support of the incoming government there. But there is a vast difference between an action taken by American authorities against their own companies, and action taken by a foreign government – even if it is the so-called favourite ally of Washington.

Google still has the support of the Democrats and one has little doubt that Friday's volley against the proposed Australian law has the blessings of the next occupant of the White House.

If News Corporation, the company that is pushing hardest for the news media code, has stayed silent after Google's Friday outburst. this could be explained away by the fact that the company is a supporter of the government and will have to get its sights right in order not to imperil the code altogether. That's why the watered down code was greeted as a great victory by the company.

There is plenty of time for Google to up the ante in the new year and get its changes into the code, given that the code will be scrutinised by a parliamentary panel before it comes to a vote and becomes law.

In October, Ken Glueck, executive vice-president of Oracle, outlined what he saw as Google's strategy to win in court: kicking the can down the road.

Google would "deny every claim, appeal any adverse decision, [and] run out the clock on every opponent – including government regulators", Glueck said in a blog post. "Even nominal 'losses' for Google are really wins: it can appeal fines and courtroom setbacks for years while its market power continues to grow and competitors disappear. And even if it has to pay something in the end, it will be a drop in Google’s very large bucket. It’s 'efficient infringement' at global scale."

Oracle has been in litigation with Google since 2010 over the use of Java code in the Android mobile operating system.

Glueck has observed Google's behaviour closely and it looks like he has it down pat. We will find out for sure in 2021.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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