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Canada firm on online news act, but ‘optimistic’ of Google buy-in

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Canada “will not back down” in the face of tech giants’ opposition to a new law requiring companies like Google and Meta to pay publishers for news content, Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge said Friday.

She added that she was “optimistic” that Google would come around, while Meta continues to take a hard line against the bill.

But in a release late Friday, Google said it continues to have “serious concerns” with the act and called on Ottawa to consider redrafting it.

The Online News Act builds on similar legislation introduced in Australia and aims to support a struggling Canadian news sector that has seen a flight of advertising dollars and hundreds of publications closed in the last decade.

“We’ve seen two different types of reactions,” St-Onge told press bosses gathered in Toronto for a media conference.

“Google has been participating and collaborating throughout the entire process and on the other hand, Meta chose to ban news in Canada even though the act is not even currently enforced.”

Meta has called Bill C-18 “fundamentally flawed” and, starting in August, blocked news access in Canada to news articles on its Facebook and Instagram platforms.

Google has voiced opposition to the Online News Act adopted in June, but deferred taking any action — including stripping Canadian news from its online searches and other digital services — until December when the bill comes into force.

The two companies control about 80 percent of all online advertising revenues in Canada, worth billions of dollars.

The government has estimated it could cost the pair a combined Can$230 million (US$170 million) by requiring them to make fair commercial deals with Canadian outlets for the news and information that is shared on their platforms, or face binding arbitration.

St-Onge acknowledged that Google “does not wish to end up in an arbitration process” for commercial agreements, while Facebook “doesn’t want to regulate content.”

“We are trying to strike the right balance,” she said, aware that other nations are watching and interested in how this will play out.

The minister commented that this is “new territory.”

“Canada is only the second jurisdiction in the world to enact this type of bargaining framework,” after Australia.

“We are leading the way but we’re also facing a lot of resistance from tech giants,” she said.

Contacted by AFP, Google Canada maintained Friday that “critical structural issues” with the bill “have not been sufficiently addressed.”

“We continue to be concerned that these fundamental issues cannot be resolved through regulation and that legislative changes may be necessary,” a spokesman said in an email.

In its statement hours later, Google furthered that to be viable, the act had to clarify the eligibility requirements for news businesses to receive support and what types of support qualify, as well as include incentives for news businesses to engage in good faith negotiations.

It also requested a compensation cap in line with global precedents such as the European copyright directive.

More controversially, Google insisted that the act only cover curated news, and not simply links to news or snippets of articles.

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