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May 5, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 11:18am

UK reveals plans to force Google and Meta to pay for news

By William Turvill

The UK government has laid out the groundwork for how it plans to force technology giants to pay news publishers for their content.

The requirement is part of a new wide-ranging British crackdown on Silicon Valley that threatens tech firms with multi-billion-pound fines.

Boris Johnson’s government could become the third jurisdiction to force Google and Meta to pay publishers for news after Australia – which introduced its News Media Bargaining Code last year – and Canada, which published the details of its upcoming Online News Act last month.

However, it is not clear when the new legislation will be introduced. The Government has said it will come in “due course”. A news industry source suggested it would be unlikely to pass before 2023 or 2024.

Under the UK plans, regulation of large technology companies will be overseen by the Digital Markets Unit (DMU), a division of the Competition and Markets Authority that launched last year but needs legislation to be passed to grant it statutory powers.

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The DMU will be given the power to “designate some of the world’s most powerful firms with ‘strategic market status’”. Only a small number of large companies, including Google and Meta, are likely to be given this status.

Companies with “strategic market status” will have “tailored codes of conduct” containing “binding conduct requirements” for how they interact with users and other companies, including publishers.

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When regulated tech companies break rules, the DMU will have the power to issue fines amounting to as much as 10% of their global revenue, while executives could face “civil penalties”.

The government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) issued a press release on Thursday night laying out the basics of its plans for the DMU. More detail is expected to be released on Friday morning.

The DCMS said the requirements on tech firms would “set out how dominant firms should trade with content providers such as news publishers. The DMU will have powers to resolve pricing disputes so that news providers are paid fairly for their online content.

“It could increase the bargaining power of national and regional newspapers, and force social media platforms to be more transparent on how they position publishers on their platforms, and what algorithms are being used.”

Beyond news publishers, the DMU will be tasked with defending the rights of consumers and other companies affected by big tech. For example, the UK government wants to make it easier for people to switch between phone operating systems and for small businesses to be aware of algorithm changes that could affect their online presence.

The details of how certain tech companies will be forced to pay for news content have not been released. But the DCMS statement makes clear this is a priority area.

In a statement, digital minister Chris Philp said: “We want to level the playing field and we are arming this new tech regulator with a range of powers to generate lower prices, better choice and more control for consumers while backing content creators, innovators and publishers, including in our vital news industry.”

The DCMS statement added: “Only a small number of firms with substantial and entrenched market power in the UK will be designated with strategic market status. This will make sure the regime holds the most-powerful businesses to account for their behaviour. The government will define the digital activities and conduct requirements for firms in scope of the regime when it brings forward the legislation.”

In a Sunday Times interview in February, UK culture secretary Nadine Dorries said the UK’s regime to force big tech news payments would be “Australia plus plus plus”.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

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