Canada considers law requiring Facebook, Google to pay news publishers

The country would take its cue from Australia.

REUTERS/Blair Gable

Canada may soon echo Australia in making internet companies pay news publishers to use their content. CBC News reports Canada's ruling Liberal Party has introduced legislation requiring that Facebook, Google and other online firms compensate news outlets for either reproducing or easing access to content. The money would help foster the "sustainability" of Canadian news, according to the government.

Companies that don't pay publishers would be subject to binding arbitration led by Canada's telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission. The CRTC will also decide which news sources qualify for compensation.

Officials saw this as a matter of necessity. Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez claimed the news industry was "in crisis" and that publishers couldn't rely on ad revenue like they had in the past. This merely addressed a "market imbalance," he said.

We've asked Google and Facebook parent Meta for comment. In the past, they've maintained that publishers benefited from the traffic driven to their websites through search results and social media posts. They've also threatened to disable services rather than pay publishers, although Google ultimately caved in Australia and struck deals to avoid an arbitration battle. In a statement to CBC News, Google said it was "carefully reviewing" the legislation and "fully support[ed]" access to news.

The legislation may well pass. Although the Liberals don't have a majority in Canada's House of Commons, they recently reached an agreement with the New Democratic Party to advance bills reflecting shared interests. Whether or not it works as promised is another concern. As University of Ottawa internet research chair Michael Geist warned, there's a concern that the CRTC's role will lead to just a "handful" of major companies profiting at the expense of smaller outfits. If so, it might not prevent further damage to the country's news industry.

Update 4/6 11:40AM ET: Google Canada spokesperson Lauren Skelly has shared the company's full statement with Engadget. You can read the response below. Also, Meta Public Policy Manager Rachel Curran said her company was "currently reviewing" the legislation and would do more once it "fully understand[s]" the nature of the bill.

"We are carefully reviewing the legislation to understand its implications.  We fully support ensuring Canadians have access to authoritative news and we look forward to working with the government to strengthen the news industry in Canada."