Australia passes bill requiring science companies to pay media, many countries may follow

Australia’s federal parliament passed a bill Feb. 25 that would require social media platforms to pay Australian news organizations for news content.

In a joint statement issued after the bill was passed by the Australian Parliament, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Australian Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said the bill would help maintain the legitimate interests of Australia’s public news industry by ensuring that media organisations receive a fair return for the content they generate.

The statement also said the Australian government was pleased to see progress in reaching commercial agreements between Google and Facebook and local media organisations. The Treasury Department will review the implementation of the bill within one year of its entry into force.

This unprecedented new law in Australia has sparked a heated debate in recent months. Both Facebook and Google opposed the initial version of the bill, which would have allowed the media to negotiate individually or collectively with social platform companies, with both parties subject to binding arbitration if they could not reach an agreement.

Facebook even shut down its Australian customers’ news pages last week in opposition to the legislation. But Facebook said earlier this week that it would resume providing news content to Australian customers after some changes to the law in Australia. The revised draft includes the following provision: “Consideration must be given to whether the digital platform makes a significant contribution to the sustainability of journalism in Australia through commercial agreements with news media organisations”. At the same Time, the new draft emphasizes “good faith” mediation, with arbitration now used only as a “last resort.

Facebook noted that with these changes, the new agreement will enable it to “support the publishers we choose”. Facebook also later revealed that it has reached an agreement with mainstream Australian media organization Seven West Media and plans to sign more agreements with other news organizations.

Meanwhile, Google has announced partnerships with Australian media organizations, including Seven West Media and media mogul Meadow’s News Corp.

Australia is the first country in the world to legislate that science companies must pay local news organizations, setting a precedent for other countries to legislate to regulate social platforms, and Canada and the United Kingdom are considering taking action based on the Australian model.