The agreement reached by Google with French news publishers, to pay them for use of online content, is a major breakthrough. Credit for wrangling the deal from Google belongs to the 2019 EU copyright rules, which allowed press publications to secure royalties for online use of their content. With France adopting the EU rules, Google stopped displaying news snippets on its search and news aggregator to avoid paying for them. However, the French competition watchdog called the bluff, noting that the unilateral move hurts publishers and constitutes an abuse of market dominance.
The harvesting of news content produced painstakingly by others requires equitable sharing of revenues. Presently, Google and Facebook corner the bulk of online ad revenues leaving a pittance for news producers. Australia too has recognised the struggles of newspapers while framing an elaborate code for revenue sharing negotiations with big tech. The Covid pandemic progressing unnoticed and unreported through China for weeks is the difference in accountability, transparency and positive outcomes for societal and individual wellbeing that a free, independent and thriving journalistic culture brings to a country.
The Indian government, currently drafting a data protection bill even while combating misinformation surrounding anti-Covid vaccines, must shore up the fourth estate for the social benefits it provides. Unlike Google and Facebook which don’t spend money on journalism, India’s news outlets also support lakhs of employees – journalists, digital content producers and support staff. India must speedily replicate the EU copyright laws and the Australian code on responsibilities of digital service providers to press publications.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.
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