Facebook Reportedly In Talks With Big Canadian Publishers Over Link Tax

Reports are surfacing that Facebook is in talks with big Canadian publishers to discuss terms of the link tax. Facebook is already conceding Canada.

Throwing the Internet under the bus. A monpolostic push. Collusion with big publishing. Giving up on Canada. These are some of the ways people will no doubt be calling this latest move. However you call it, one thing is clear: it appears that the link tax won’t even be a fight in Canada.

Reports are surfacing that says that Facebook is negotiating with big publishing to discuss a license agreement over links. From Reuters:

Facebook Inc is exploring potential licensing agreements in the coming year with Canadian media outlets and expanding its investment in local journalism initiatives, a source familiar with the company’s thinking said on Wednesday.

The move comes as the Canadian government is preparing to introduce legislation in the coming months, along the lines of the controversial Australian model that forces technology companies like Facebook and Alphabet Inc’s Google to pay media companies for content.

But the source said Facebook views the situation in Australia as unique.

“You’re looking at a country that is by and large dominated by one large media conglomerate that has a very heavy influence on government and government policies,” the source said, pointing out that most countries do not have that.

You really can’t help but do a double take on this sudden point of view. This is completely different than back on the 1st of this month. At the time, Facebook was actively warning Canada to not implement a link tax law. Here’s what they said at the time:

“Some of the ideas that we’ve seen discussed, such as the ones proposed in Australia where Facebook would be required to pay for links that are shared on our platform that we don’t control, is going to be unworkable, we wouldn’t be able to make that work because that’s just not how things get shared onto Facebook.”

What a difference four weeks makes. In the span of four weeks, we’ve gone from ‘the link tax is unworkable’ to, ‘the link tax is totally workable. What happened in Australia, well, that’s a unique situation and it was only because News Corp has near monopoly. Our platform? We know how to make that work.’ It’s a flip flop so big, you could suffer whiplash from it.

The thing in all of this is that the Canadian government hasn’t even introduced the link tax law yet. It had fully intended on doing so at some point, but it hasn’t gotten to the point of being tabled yet.

This raises some serious questions about the forthcoming link tax law. If the aim of the legislation was to get Google and Facebook specifically to pay for the privilege of sending publishers traffic, what role is the legislation going to play? On the one hand, we could optimistically believe that the legislation will simply provide a negotiating framework and simply represent clerical guidelines in all of this. That is, of course, the optimistic point of view (as chilling as that sounds).

The more likely scenario is that these moves Facebook are making is going to strengthen their position to try and wreak further harm on the Internet in a single move. If Google and Facebook are going to comply, why not just go after other larger sites in the process? They know that Facebook’s threat to pull out of Canada is bluster thanks to Facebook folding in a mere week. On top of that, if other big services leave Canada, it’s not going to hurt quite as much because big publishing got Google and Facebook to play along in this unprecedented scheme.

We’ll have to see what the legislation ultimately ends up being, though. It’s hard to say where in this spectrum of possibilities the government plans on taking now that Facebook is already caving without a fight. Still, things are beginning to look pretty bad for the open Internet in Canada already.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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