Facebook rejects talks with Australia publisher, may test online law

Australia’s competition watchdog is looking into a claim that Facebook refused a publisher’s request to negotiate a licensing deal, setting the stage for the first test of the world’s toughest online content law.

The Conversation publishing current affairs commentary by academics, said that it asked Facebook to begin talks as required under new Australian legislation that requires the social media firm and Alphabet Inc’s Google to negotiate content-supply deals with media outlets. The Conversation said that even though the publisher was among the first in Australia to secure a similar deal with Google in the lead-up to the law in 2020.

The knockback could present the first test of a controversial mechanism unique to Australia’s effort to claw back advertising dollars from Google and Facebook. This is if they refuse to negotiate license fees with publishers, a government-appointed arbitrator may step in. Facebook’s head of news partnerships for Australia, Andrew Hunter gave a statement that the company was focused on concluding commercial deals with a range of Australian publishers. Hunter did not answer specific questions concerning the Conversation.

Hunter also added that Facebook was planning a separate initiative to support regional, rural and digital Australian newsrooms and public-interest journalism in the coming months. Rod Sims, the chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), said in an interview that if Google’s done a deal with them, he can’t see how Facebook should argue that they shouldn’t. Under the law, the treasurer made the decision to designate a Big Tech firm for intervention.

Governments around the world are introducing laws to make the tech giants compensate media companies. But Australia is the only country where the government may set the fees if negotiations fail. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who earlier this year negotiated with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg over the laws, was not immediately available for comment. Nelson Yap, publisher of Australian Property Journal said that he was in early discussions with Google but had emailed Facebook twice with no response.

A Facebook spokesperson did not answer a question about any contacts with the Property Journal. The Conversation editor Misha Ketchell said that obviously they are disappointed that they haven’t been able to engage in negotiations with Facebook so far. But they remain optimistic that they will be able to reach an agreement.

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