Push for Link Tax Heads to US As Outlets Discuss Possibilities for American Version

The push for a global link tax law is potentially heading to the United States. The aim is to shoehorn it with anti-trust discussions by lawmakers.

Facebook and Google have been under the microscope when it comes to anti-trust issues in the United States. The more recent anti-trust investigations started in late 2019 when multiple US States started probing Facebook on anti-trust grounds.

A year later, the lawsuits started rolling out. In October of last year, the US Department of Justice filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Google. The lawsuit was seen as rushed and didn’t appear to have much of a chance for success. In December, that was followed up by not one, but two anti-trust lawsuits.

In general, the anti-trust litigation questioned, among other things, the dominant role Google had with advertising online. They also questioned if Google has too much power in the market and is favoring their own services at the expense of the competition. Additionally, the anti-trust action questioned if Facebook’s buying up of the competition meant that the social media giant had become a monopoly.

It’s a lot of serious legal questions. Some angles show more promise than others. Still, the collective action does, to varying degrees, tackle some of the serious issues surrounding the dominant role Facebook and Google have these days.

So, you might be wondering, what does this have to do with the link tax law? Well, nothing, actually. That’s not stopping some from attempting to hijack the process and shoehorn the link tax law into the discussions anyway.

Last month, Microsoft decided to try and push lawmakers into implementing a link tax law as part of its anti-trust action. From GeekWire:

Microsoft likes Australia’s plan to make Google and Facebook pay local publishers for content included in search results or news feeds so much that the company believes the U.S. should adopt similar thinking.

“The United States should not object to a creative Australian proposal that strengthens democracy by requiring tech companies to support a free press. It should copy it instead,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Microsoft waded into the dispute down under earlier this month, when Google threatened to block its search engine in Australia over the proposed law, or “news media bargaining code,” as it’s called. Smith said at the time that Microsoft would never make such a threat.

That push was responded to with general dismissal. Some viewed it as a hair-brained idea to get people to use its largely ignored Bing search service. Not a lot of people took this push very seriously and it seemed like Microsoft was just going out on a limb for a little added publicity. Since these comments, that call pretty much went by the wayside.

Later on, after Facebook took the principled stand of deleting their news feeds in Australia, the social media giant shockingly folded under pressure and decided to restore the news feeds as it said it just wanted more time to negotiate with News Corp. That ultimately weakened its position on the debate severely.

In Canada, Facebook warned lawmakers not to repeat Australia’s link tax mistake. Then, last Saturday, we learned that Facebook entered into negotiations with big publishing over a possible link tax scheme.

Already, the heavy-handed law that solves nothing and creates a pile of problems is already being aggressively pushed by the heavily lobbies Canadian Heritage Minister. It’s backed by big publishing in Canada which went to the extreme of launching a massive coordinated propaganda campaign that pushed conspiracy theories and misinformation onto the public in an effort to convince as many people as possible that the unnecessary link tax law is badly needed.

While some American’s might dismiss this as something happening outside of the country and would never actually become a thing, there is now a renewed push to ram through a link tax law in the United States. Outlets are already pushing the possibility of bringing the link tax law to the United States. From (weirdly) The Guardian:

Facebook has since struck a deal with the Australian government for more flexibility. But the tech giant’s show of force has added fuel to the growing demands to rein in its vast influence in the US, and has left clues as to what legislation similar to the Australian proposal could look like in the United States.

“With a desire among politicians on both sides of the aisle to think more seriously about regulating social media companies, it is clear that changes are in the cards for Facebook,” said Josh Pasek, an associate professor of communications and political science at the University of Michigan.

The incident has already made its way to the US Congress. In antitrust discussions on Thursday, it was cited by Representative David Cicilline as a reflection of Facebook’s outsized power over publishers, underscoring heightened interest in the issue and potential legislation on the horizon.

New legislation on news publisher rights on Facebook would probably mirror a bill previously introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, according to the news site Axios. The measure, co-sponsored by the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, would allow newspapers to collectively bargain with dominant online platforms.

That isn’t the only source talking about renewing this war. From DigiDay:

Agreements Google has made to pay publishers participating in its nascent News Showcase program spotlighting their branded content have been conducted on an individual, bilateral basis, said Richard Gingras, Google’s vp of news. Gingras told Digiday that in his experience, publishers would rather work out deals individually.

But Maribel Wadsworth, president of Gannett’s USA Today Network and publisher of USA Today told Digiday if collective bargaining between publishers and digital platforms were made legal here, “having the ability for publishers to negotiate collectively would be an important start. Ultimately, what’s most important is achieving proper recognition of the value of quality, original reporting.”

David Spiegel, vp of digital revenue at LA Times publisher California Times Group took a more nuanced view, suggesting that smaller or niche publishers may want to bargain collectively for better leverage if given the chance.

“I think scaled national publishers will think they can be best served by negotiating independently, but it would be smart for niche groups to band together, especially in areas that Google needs” such as local media and service-oriented content that pushes people to its search services, he said.

At this point, it’s hard to say if this push will result in anything meaningful, however, big publishing is clearly attempting to hijack the anti-trust debate by shoehorning the link tax into it. It obviously has nothing to do with questions surrounding Facebooks and Googles dominant place in the market, but you know big publishing will darn well try. Chances are, big publishing is sensing that they have the momentum thanks to what is happening in Australia and Canada. Now, they are probably going to start going for the jugular and push America off the innovation cliff as well.

We can only hope that this remains just talking points, but seeing these articles is generally how the poisonous link tax law started in Australia and Canada. We can only hope for a different result or we are in for a fundamentally altered Internet – an that alteration will be for the worse.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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