Australia’s news media code could break the internet, but there’s a fix


When Tim Berners Lee invented the internet, he did so with the idea to make sharing/linking to content free. It sounds weird, but the internet doesn’t work if businesses or people have the ability to monetise hyperlinks.

Australia’s taking on social tech giants in a big way — it wants to have social platforms pay for the use of editorial work done by journalists. Fair enough. Traditionally, other publishers would have to pay for the use of a journalist’s work. Facebook holds that it’s not a publisher (ahem… which is debatable), while Google understands its place as a news aggregator/publisher

What’s the Aussie code of conduct about?

It’s called the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code, but we’ll just call it the news media code. In its current state, however, the Code will make the internet ‘unworkable’ as Mr Berners Lee puts it. 

“Specifically, I am concerned that the code risks breaching a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment for linking between certain content online. […] The ability to link freely — meaning without limitations regarding the content of the linked site and without monetary fees — is fundamental to how the web operates,” Berners Lee said in a statement. 

If we just start charging someone every time they link to our content, it will set a standard and pretty soon, all the publications in SA will be monetising links. Give it a few days, and the world’s website-owners will all charge a premium for links. Next thing we know, no-one’s linking to anyone anymore, because it’s too expensive. 

The solution: Still making ’em pay

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way to make Google and Facebook pay. Google already shelled out (or promised to shell out) millions of dollars to Australian publishers for their news content. That means it knows it’s a publisher. It knows the right thing to do is pay for the use of editorial work. And its product is superior… 

Which is where the small tweak comes in. By removing one sentence in the news media code, it will become completely workable again, according to Mr Berners Lee. 

Google and Facebook don’t just collect and list links to news content, otherwise, you’ll see people scrolling a list of hyperlinks every morning. They package content in a pretty way — it’s curated, sorted and reframed with a featured image and a short intro. That’s where SEO (or search engine optimisation) comes in, and has a massive effect on a publication’s readership. Good and bad. 

It’s also in the packaged content where you’ll find advertisements — things Google and Facebook think you would like to spend some cash on, of course. 

Mr Berners Lee makes a good point. If we start charging for the most mundane features on the internet, where are we going to end up? If the news media code was only applied to this type of ‘packaged’ content, and not hyperlinks in general, it could work. 

Source: The Conversation


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Digital Editor at Stuff. Nevermind the fancy title, I like writing about things that are cool. Like games, gadgets and sometimes even software. Depending on how cool it is.

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