Report Explores how to Make Big Tech Companies Pay for the News they Use

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Courtney Radsch

The need to find ways to support independent journalism by rebalancing the relationship between Big Tech and the news industry has led to the production of a report that analyses the evidence and justification for proposals that would tax digital advertising, compel Big Tech to negotiate with publishers over content usage or require platforms to pay licensing fees for using news content, among others.

Titled “Making Big Tech Pay for the News They Use,” the report written by Courtney Radsch, considers the implications of pioneering Western laws and policies on news media in developing and low-income countries and stresses the importance of a coordinated global approach to this push for improved media sustainability.

The report looks at the different scenarios as they affect developed and developing economies including in areas like influence, market share, and regulatory capacity when it comes to realistically imposing new requirements on global technology firms which developing countries lack.

The report holds that implementing any of the approaches is not just about political will and standing up to Big Tech, but also about institutional design, legitimacy, and trust, and that as news media, policymakers and advocates work to address this challenge in their own countries, it is important to examine the key elements that must be in place for any of these proposals to be effective.

Expatiating on these key elements, the report draws says institutional design is a deciding factor influencing the likely success of pursuing any of these policies. It adds that a strong competition authority could pursue collective bargaining and licensing approaches. It warned  however that without a publishers’ association with the legitimacy and trust to engage in collective bargaining on behalf of the news outlets in a country, this model will fail, or risk being captured by the government.

Going further, it says “implementing a licensing or copyright model will require industry associations and collecting agencies that could implement a monitoring and payment distribution system, which requires transparency and trust to function.” It points out that “even where there are adequate publishers’ associations and existing royalty rights management organizations, there must be authorities with the competence and capacity to monitor and enforce compliance.” It states that competition and copyright approaches require trust in the government and relevant regulators to determine who is protected, who benefits, and how that is decided in order for the system to operate effectively and fairly.

The report makes some recommendations to address the issues as among which are:

  • Policymakers should require the tech industry to provide more traffic data as well as how they relate to revenue and monetization for news content. Greater transparency would serve a broad range of goals including those related to strengthening media sustainability.
  • Media outlets need to improve their data collection and analysis so that they can better understand the links between traffic, advertising, and content monetization.
  • Google should consider offering higher Google AdSense payments, which could lead to more immediate and meaningful support to smaller, less trafficked media, since it is far easier to use but less lucrative.
  • Policymakers and the donor community should support small media to “combine forces or join existing media marketplaces that aggregate traffic from multiple media companies.” This type of publisher-led news aggregator could similarly aid revenue growth without expecting them to develop the expertise or hire dedicated staff.
  • Direct unilateral support to media outlets by tech platforms should not be a replacement for legal regulatory frameworks that seek to create a level playing field and support independent media.

To download and read the full report, please click here.