Microsoft urges US to ‘copy’ Australian push to make tech giants pay for news

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Microsoft on Thursday urged the U.S. government to adopt a law similar to a controversial Australian proposal that would require tech giants to pay publishers for news. 

“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 said in a blog post

Tech giants Facebook and Google have sharply criticized the Australian proposal, with the former saying it would have to stop users in the country from sharing news on its platforms if the plan is adopted.

After Google threatened to pull its search engine from Australia over the proposal, Microsoft stepped in to offer its less-used search engine Bing as an alternative.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month said Microsoft had said it is prepared to grow Bing to meet requirements if Google pulled its services from the company, Reuters reported

Smith acknowledged in his blog post that Bing’s search service has a less than 5 percent market share in Australia, even lower than the 15 percent to 20 percent share it has across searches in the U.S. 

Despite Bing’s current limited reach, he said, “with a realistic prospect of gaining usage share, we are confident we can build the service Australians want and need.”

The Australian proposal is now before a parliamentary committee. It would allow media companies to request payment from tech giants for news articles posted on their platforms, and subject Google and Facebook to mandatory price arbitration if an agreement on payments to media companies can’t be reached. 

Google and Facebook have argued publishers benefit from including their links on the platforms, taking readers directly to publishers’ websites, though news organizations say the lion’s share of online ad revenue is going to the tech giants.

The Trump administration had opposed the Australian proposal. 

In January, under then-President Trump, assistant U.S. trade representatives Daniel Bahar and Karl Ehlers asked the Australian government to “suspend” the plans.

“The U.S. Government is concerned that an attempt, through legislation, to regulate the competitive positions of specific players … to the clear detriment of two U.S. firms, may result in harmful outcomes,” they said in the document, under the letterhead of the Executive Office of the President, according to Reuters

A spokesperson for the Biden White House was not immediately available for comment when asked if the administration is open to embracing a proposal similar to Australia’s.

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