Australia to Move Forward With Link Tax Law With Forthcoming Legislation

Reports are surfacing that says Australia could soon table their proposed link tax law. It is being described as a “first” in the world.

Australia is reportedly going to introduce legislation that would put the link tax into the law books. The legislation is going to be entitled the “News Media Bargaining Code”.

Originally, this was to be finalized in November. After COVID-19 hit, resulting in ad revenues plummeting, the government pushed their regulator to finalize a code much sooner. It’s unclear what happened in the interim, but we are now seeing reports that the law is going to be tabled.

The Australian government has been pushing for a link tax law for some time now. In short, a link tax law is a massive cash grab plot by Big Publishing. The Internet relies heavily on sites linking to each other. It is a big reason why the Internet is referred to as “the web” – because of the interconnected nature of it all. Linking is the primary way sites reference material. It enables sites to reference their work when producing content.

Referencing material is, of course, nothing new – even by the Internet in general. For decades, scholars have referenced each other in various papers on a wide range of subjects. While the style of referencing differs widely, it generally makes their content stand up more strongly to scrutiny.

After decades of use, Big Publishing is aiming to upset this long held balance. What they are demanding is that they get paid royalties for having their material referenced. If there is another discipline that has ever demanded this, we are unaware of it. So, if you link to a source, you are going to be required to pay a tax for the privilege of doing so.

Many have long argued – rightfully – that such activities fall under various Fair Use or Fair Dealing exceptions. Whether it’s for journalistic purposes, criticism, satirical, of other purpose, the activity of linking/referencing has long been seen as an activity that does not require payment.

The Australian government, at the behest of Big Publishing, aims to set aside all that precedence and logic. Instead, they are using arguments that, magically, this is all different. They are simply trying to “level the playing field” among other exercises in magical wishful thinking. The aim is largely focused on big players like Google and Facebook. They say they want those sites to pay fees for aggregating content. Aggregators, of course, produce news feeds that allow users to more easily access content which has been a boon for publishers in general.

CBC is noting that the legislation is going to soon be tabled:

Australia’s government will reveal legislation in Parliament on Wednesday that would make Facebook and Google pay for journalism.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Tuesday that the legislation to create the News Media Bargaining Code will be scrutinized by a parliamentary committee following its introduction and before lawmakers vote on it next year.

“This is a huge reform,” Frydenberg told reporters. “This is a world first. And the world is watching what happens here in Australia.”

He added, “This is comprehensive legislation that has gone further than any comparable jurisdiction in the world.”

The legislation differs from draft proposals that were released in July after consultations with the social media platforms, as well as Australian media organizations.

One thing to note is the fact that Facebook has already threatened to remove their news feed from the country. This after the country demanded that they pay fees for linking to content online. This is largely the most logical move from the aggregators perspective. Obviously, you can point out what value aggregator services provide to journalism as a whole. When all else fails, though, just pull out of the country altogether.

Typically, this is a great way to prove to everyone involved that publishers need aggregators more than aggregators need publishers. That is precisely what happened in Spain where the country reversed course once news publishers traffic plummeted. Ad revenue dried up and subscriptions dwindled. This resulted in publishers begging the aggregators to return and caused the link tax law to collapse in the country. It wasn’t pretty, but playing hard ball is the only course of action left to take.

Shortly after this excerpt, the CBC report gets somewhat murky. It appears to be referencing the Steven Guilbeault incident where the Heritage Minister went rogue and pushed for a Canadian version of the link tax law. The fallout from that is the general wide consensus that Canada has ejected its digital agenda. For years, the Canadian government under the Liberals was to make Canada a leader in technology and innovation. This was wrapped with good will gestures such as promising to bolster privacy laws and strengthen network neutrality. Guilbeault effectively undid a large portion of that good will and revealed the anti-innovation underbelly of the current government. The fact that the current proposed privacy reform laws fell short didn’t help matters much.

Still, while the Australian government is billing this as a world first, it is certainly not a world first in a good way by any means. You can very easily mandate that all lawmakers must wear their pants on their heads and call it a “world first”. It doesn’t exactly offer a good look. If anything, this further pushes the image that the Australian government has been running an anti-innovation agenda. After all, this is the same government that banned encryption – and we all know the fallout from that massive debacle.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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