Last updated on July 2nd, 2023 at 09:58 pm
Don’t say they didn’t warn you Government of Canada. In a recent statement, Google announced that it may have to take drastic measures in response to Canada’s recently enacted Bill C-18, also known as the Online News Act. The Act has stirred up a heated debate in the tech world as it imposes a ‘link tax’ on two companies (Google, Meta), forcing them to pay for sharing links to news – a standard free practice online.
This unprecedented step puts a price on linking to news articles, a development that Google argues undermines the foundational principles of the internet and creates significant financial liability. Google has protested this decision for over a year, emphasizing that it may lead to drastic alterations in the services it provides to Canadian users.
To that end, Google has notified the Canadian Government that it may have to remove links to Canadian news from its Search, News, and Discover products in Canada when the law takes effect. Furthermore, the company stated that Bill C-18 would make it untenable to continue offering its Google News Showcase product in Canada.
We have now informed the Government that when the law takes effect, we unfortunately will have to remove links to Canadian news from our Search, News and Discover products in Canada, and that C-18 will also make it untenable for us to continue offering our Google News Showcase product in Canada.Kent Walker, President Global Affairs, Google & Alphabet
Google’s decision is not one it has taken lightly, and the company has stressed the importance of maintaining transparency with both Canadian publishers and users about the potential impact of the new law.
Minister “Surprised” at Google’s Announcement
Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez expressed surprise at Google’s decision to stop hosting links to Canadian news outlets due to Canada’s new Online News Act.
I’m a bit surprised by Google’s reaction.Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez
Rodriguez mentioned having ongoing discussions with Google. University of Ottawa law professor and Canada Research Chair in Internet and e-commerce law, Michael Geist, criticized the legislation, calling it “bad for everyone.” He highlighted the legislation’s negative impacts on Google’s search features in Canada, Canadian news outlets that rely on Google for referral traffic, and the Canadian public’s access to search results. Geist also described the legislation as “disastrous” for the government, as it failed to foresee the situation’s potential outcomes and put the internet’s free flow of information at risk.
Google’s Efforts to Collaborate on Bill C-18
Google already invests in supporting Canadian journalism through its programs and partnerships. As part of the Google News Showcase program, the tech giant has negotiated agreements with over 150 news publications across Canada. Google’s efforts led to over 3.6 billion links to Canadian news publications last year alone, generating significant ad revenue and new subscriptions for publishers at no charge. However, Bill C-18 presents challenges that Google believes are unworkable and could potentially undermine the services it offers.
Since the introduction of C-18, Google claims to have strived to share its experiences and make it clear that such legislation could affect the availability of news on Google’s products in Canada. The tech giant has a history of successful collaboration with governments and news publishers around the globe to strengthen the news industry, with mutually beneficial agreements with thousands of news publications.
Despite these efforts, Google’s proposed improvements to Bill C-18, including the creation of an independent fund for Canadian journalism supported by both platforms and the government, have not been accepted. The company sought balanced amendments to the legislation but ultimately, its suggestions were not included in the final version of the bill.
Future Discussions and the Need for Certainty
The Canadian Government recently agreed to discuss possible changes to the Act, and while Google welcomed the discussions, the company asked for clarity on financial expectations and a viable path towards exemption based on its current programs to support news and agreements with publishers.
Google still believes that the Act falls short in providing certainty that the regulatory process can resolve fundamental issues with the legislation, such as the forced payment for links and uncapped financial liability.
This saga reflects the need for governments, tech companies, and publishers to come together to find a balanced, sustainable, and mutually beneficial way to support journalism. Without such collaboration, measures like Bill C-18 could potentially alter the course of journalism and internet freedom in Canada, with unforeseen consequences for users, publishers, and tech companies alike.