Google has come out swinging against a law proposed by the Canadian government that would force the search engine to pay publishers for listing content.
Canada’s proposed Online News Act would compel tech companies to negotiate deals with news organizations for content that appears on their platforms.
It’s modelled after legislation introduced in Australia last year. Should the bill get passed and made into law, it could encourage more countries to take a similar approach.
Sabrina Geremia, Google Canada vice-president and managing director, picked apart the Online News Act proposal in a blog post.
Google’s main point of contention is the aforementioned “link tax,” which the search company claims would make the news industry worse off.
In an age where newsrooms are increasingly forced to close due to declining profits, a stream of revenue from Google could help keep more publishers in business.
So why is it a bad thing?
Google argues the proposal doesn’t clearly define what qualifies as a news organization. That could result in “undeserving” publishers getting rewarded.
Further, the Online News Act would prevent tech companies from penalizing or giving preference to news organizations they’ve reached agreements with.
In other words, Google’s ability to rank search results for news items would be limited.
What started in Australia is making its way to Canada and it could be coming to your country next. Here’s more about how a link tax could potentially impact search results.
What Is A Link Tax?
Google is equating the money it may have to pay Canadian news organizations with a government-imposed tax.
The “tax” wouldn’t be paid to the government, however, it would be paid to publishers every time Google links a searcher to their content.
News organizations would be eligible to receive compensation as long as they regularly employ two or more journalists in Canada.
The broad definition for eligible news businesses could force Google and other tech companies to compensate publishers that don’t meet basic journalistic standards.
Outlets deliberately spreading misinformation, for example, may benefit from the link tax if they meet the simple criteria of having two Canadian journalists on payroll.
As it’s written today, the proposed Online News Act would prevent Google from giving any kind of preference to publishers it enters into agreements with.
That means Google wouldn’t be able to rank webpages from those publishers over others, even if they’re higher quality or more relevant to a searcher’s query.
Potential Issues Caused By A Link Tax
Google claims a link tax would “break” search results for everyone.
The issue isn’t with Google being forced to pay publishers, it’s more about the types of publishers that could end up getting paid.
Technically, a publisher peddling conspiracy theories about current events could be eligible for compensation if they employ at least two writers from Canada.
On top of that, Google wouldn’t be able to downrank those publishers in Canadian search results. The Online News Act stipulates publishers receiving payment from Google can neither be penalized or receive preferential treatment.
If the bill gets passed as it exists today, it would indeed break the way Google is designed to function.
Over the long term it has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for laws other countries could impose on Google.
The bill is currently under review by Canada’s House of Commons. Google says it intends to work with the Canadian government over the coming weeks to refine the legislation.
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