Canada Softens Proposed Rules to Force Google and Meta Pay for News Content After Blocking Threats

The Canadian government is working to pare back the law that has driven Meta Platforms, Google and other tech companies to threaten to cut news links out of their feeds rather than share revenue with publishers.

The Online News Act, which is slated to take effect in less than six months, requires that digital platforms reach deals with Canadian news outlets to share revenue for their content. Google and Meta, the respective parents of Facebook and Instagram, lobbied against the law, and have pledged to block Canadian news rather than pay up.

But after months of appearing steadfast in enforcing the law in full, Heritage Canada, the agency tasked with promoting and supporting Canada’s culture and heritage, is now planning to scale back the rules for how it works, reported The National Post.

Planned adjustments to the act, posted by Heritage Canada in an online notice Monday, aim to “clarify” the criteria under which news-aggregator platforms can qualify for exemptions to the requirements to deal with Canadian publishers, the report said.

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The notice said that the agency plans to propose regulations that would “establish a financial threshold for contributions to the sustainability of the Canadian news marketplace” that would be “based on a platform’s estimated Canadian revenues and would be specific to each platform and their position within the news marketplace.” In other words, rather than requiring platforms to pay an uncapped amount for news, there would be a limit to what each company would be required to pay.

Another proposal would allow the tech companies to count “non-monetary offerings to news organizations” like training and other products that could count toward an exemption for direct payments.

The new rules would also “consider existing agreements that the digital platforms have reached with news businesses,” which critics said is directly related to Google’s objections to the law and its agreements with Canadian outlets via its Google News Showcase program.

The regulations are still in the works, and Heritage Canada will accept comments from stakeholders and Canadians before they are set in place. The law is expected to take effect by mid-December.

“It would appear that the government has caved on the bill as it searches for a face-saving compromise,” wrote Michael Geist, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and the school’s Canada research chair in internet and i-commerce law on his blogs. Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo “Rodriguez and Prime Minister Trudeau had tough talk last week, but behind the scenes they were apparently ready to cast aside the core principles that they claimed were essential to the legislation,” he said.

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Geist also noted that even if Canada reaches a deal with Google, that doesn’t guarantee it can reach one with Meta. “Meta has left no doubt that it will not pay for links and that news has limited value on its platform,” he wrote, adding, “it is hard to see a road back for Meta.”

“If that is the case, Bill C-18 is already a disaster as the lost links and cancellation of existing deals mean that Bill C-18 may result in a net loss for the media sector,” wrote Geist.

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