‘There are games going on’: Insiders detail Ottawa’s frustration with Google over online news bill

OTTAWA — Despite Google’s claims that the federal government should not have been caught off guard by its scathing assessment of Ottawa’s online news bill, federal sources say they were “frustrated and disappointed” by a tech giant they say has no interest in being regulated.

“There are games going on,” a government source told The Star. “Their bottom line is their bottom line, but they don’t want to be regulated.”

The comments follow a blog post Monday by Google Canada Vice President and General Manager Sabrina Geremia, who claimed the bill would reduce the quality of online journalism, help spread misinformation, would “break” Google’s search engine and give Canada’s telecommunications regulator “unprecedented influence” over what counts as news.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez’s office refuted the claims, accusing the tech company of “exaggerating” its concerns.

Google and the government say they had constructive conversations about the bill, which aims to level the playing field between big tech and Canada’s information industry.

Bill C-18, the Online News Act, would require web giants like Facebook and Google to share a portion of the revenue they earn from publishing news content on their platforms with media outlets that produce the stories.

(Media companies including Torstar, which publishes the Toronto Star, have pressured Ottawa to address how tech titans are dominating the digital advertising market. Torstar also struck a deal, with 10 other publishers, to join Google’s News Showcase service.)

The standoff means Canada is getting a taste of the battles web giants have fought in other countries that have demanded to be paid for news sharing. Google pulled its Google News service from Spain for seven years after the country demanded monthly licensing fees for publishers whose content was linked on the platform. Google has also threatened to pull its search engine out of Australia over its news media trading code, which Canadian law is based on.

It is now clear that Google is saying “one thing to (the government) privately” and “another thing” to the media, lobbyists and stakeholders, another federal source said.

While Google said the criticisms outlined in its blog post this week had already been raised with the government, federal sources told The Star that one of those concerns was “brand new information,” first revealed. once at an invitation-only conference held in Montreal. during the weekend.

The event, organized by Newsgeist, operates under the Chatham House rule, meaning attendees are free to discuss ideas outside of the conference but cannot reveal where the news comes from.

It was during a handful of these sessions – bearing titles like “WTF continues with the Digital News Act?” and “What’s the right way to get Google and Facebook to pay for news?” (Something between charity and extortion)” – which sources said Google first mentioned the idea that the bill would infringe on its access to copyright limitations and exceptions.

At issue is a section of the bill that Google says means online platforms would have to pay for “an index, aggregation, or ranking of news content,” which the tech company has dubbed a “tax on the links”. Such a requirement would “fundamentally break” the way search engines work, according to Google, as it would result in mandatory payments for including links and brief snippets of news articles when people search for a topic.

“It literally strips us of fair use rights and forces us to pay for snippets and links in ways we wouldn’t have to pay otherwise,” said Jason Kee, public policy adviser for Google.

The federal government maintains that such a “tax” does not exist in the legislation. A source told The Star that Google is ‘speculating that the worst possible outcome is what will happen’ and is using it to ‘sow fear’, even though the legislation will evolve as it is debated and passed. through regulatory processes.

Kee said that although the Department of Heritage indicated the bill would not interfere with links between news articles and their ranking on its search engine, Google was left to interpret its specifics.

“The challenge we have is that we basically have to look at the actual terms of the legislation versus (Rodriguez’s) intent and interpret it accordingly,” Kee said.

He added that the blog post was published now because the bill recently passed second reading in the lower house.

“We felt like the time was right to start publicly voicing the concerns that we had already expressed (to the government) just to inform the public discourse around the bill, especially as MPs start debating it at the House,” Kee said. “We will always be essentially engaged with the government … to essentially make it … a functioning and workable regime.”


Raisa Patel is an Ottawa journalist who covers federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

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