Google threatens to pull its search engine from an entire country, Australia, if a proposed bill falls into action that would force Google to pay news publishers for their content.
“If this version of the Code were to become law it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Google Australia and New Zealand VP Mel Silva told the Senate Economics Legislation Committee of Australia today.
She added “We have had to conclude after looking at the legislation in detail we do not see a way, with the financial and operational risks, that we could continue to offer a service in Australia,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald.
The firm, which has been fighting for months against Australia’s policy, claims the nation is seeking to make it pay to show links and snippets to news articles in Google Search, not only for news articles featured in sites like Google News, claiming it “would set an untenable precedent for our company and the digital economy” and that it is “not compatible with how search engines operate.”
Scott Morrison, the Australian Prime Minister, was quick to react. “We don’t respond to threats,” Morrison said, according to statements made by the AP. “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”
Google has several prominent allies who agree with that: Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the world wide web, submitted his opinion (see number 46 here) that the Code risks breaching a basic concept of the web by demanding payment for links between certain online content.
Another internet pioneer who helped design TCP/IP, Vint Cerf, expressed similar thoughts with the Committee, but it is worth remembering that he already works as the Chief Internet Evangelist for Google.
In August, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which drafted the policy, appeared to suggest that this did not impact the search business of Google: “Google will not be required to charge Australians for the use of its free services such as Google Search and YouTube unless it chooses to do so.” Google obviously disagrees.
As Google explains in Silva’s full statement and an accompanying blog post, it would prefer to pay publishers specifically for its Google News products. (A scheme to pay publishers back in June in Australia, Germany, and Brazil has already been announced.)
Australia, though, didn’t seem to think that was enough. The ACCC believes that “a significant bargaining power imbalance between Australian news media companies and Google and Facebook” has been addressed by the proposed law.
With this specific law, Facebook is also in the ACCC’s sights and threatens to block the sharing of its news in Australia, too. These blockages are called a “worst-case” scenario by both companies, and Google insisted that it wasn’t a threat, but it certainly sounds like one.
You can read the full bill for yourself right here.