Google set to remove news links in Canada over online news law

Google said Thursday it will remove Canadian news content from its search, news and discover products after a new law meant to compensate media outlets comes into force.

The move to pull news from the world’s most popular search engine could have a devastating impact on Canadian media outlets, which often depend on third parties like Google to get content into the hands of readers.

The decision comes after the government’s contentious C-18 legislation passed Parliament last week. The bill has been criticized by tech giants like Meta and Google who say it’s unfair to impose what amounts to a tax on links.

Some smaller media outlets and experts have blasted the regime because they claim the bulk of the financial benefits will accrue to a handful of a large media players.

“We’re disappointed it has come to this. We don’t take this decision or its impacts lightly and believe it’s important to be transparent with Canadian publishers and our users as early as possible,” said Kent Walker, the president of global affairs at Google and Alphabet.

“The unprecedented decision to put a price on links (a so-called ‘link tax’) creates uncertainty for our products and exposes us to uncapped financial liability simply for facilitating Canadians’ access to news from Canadian publishers.”

The government and larger media outlets, including the newspaper lobby group and broadcasters like the CBC and CTV, have said social media companies should compensate news outlets for the use of their content.

Just yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government was confident Google would come around on the legislation.

“I will say the conversations with Google are ongoing. It is important that we find a way to ensure that Canadians can continue to access content in all sorts of ways but also that we protect rigorous independent journalism that has a foundational role in our democracy, ” he said.

“We know that democracies only work with a strong independent diverse media and we will continue to work for that.”

WATCH: Trudeau says he’s ‘disappointed’ by Meta’s reaction to online news law

Google and Meta have signaled they’d rather get out of the news-posting business altogether rather than deal with this process.

In a separate statement, a spokesperson for Google Canada said the government’s legislation will make it harder for Canadians to find news online, make it harder for journalists to reach their audiences, and reduce valuable free web traffic to Canadian publishers.

But Google signaled it might be willing to change course if the government addresses some of its concerns.

We hope that the government will be able to outline a viable path forward, said Google spokesperson Shay Pardy.

CBC/Radio-Canada could be a beneficiary of this new federal program because it operates one of the largest news sites in the country and links to its content are regularly shared on other platforms.

We all depend on an open Internet. It would be unfortunate if the digital platforms used their dominance to deny Canadians access to news and information. We encourage Canadians to go directly to the websites and apps they trust for their news, said Leon Mar, a spokesperson for CBC/Radio Canada.

OpenMedia, an advocacy group that has attacked the bill in the past, said Thursday that Google’s decision is exactly what we warned Heritage Minister [Pablo] Rodriguez about.

Unfortunately, the way this bill was written was made news blocking inevitable, said Matt Hatfield, the group’s campaigns director.

Instead of building a much-needed sustainable funding model that would support quality and diverse news, C-18’s failures will make it even more difficult for Canadians to access the news they need on the platforms they use.

Michael Geist is a Canadian research chair in internet and e-commerce law at the University of Ottawa and a fierce critic of the bill.

He said Rodriguez, the minister who shepherded this legislation through Parliament, did not take risks of the flawed Bill C-18 seriously.

Geist said the minister is squarely to blame for Google’s decision, which risks imperilling an already fragile industry.

Cannot overstate the harm from this: the news sector lost hundreds of millions, Canadians face degraded search results, and the prominence of low-quality sources increased, Geist tweeted.

John Paul Tasker (new windows) · CBC News

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