Canadian Internet users may no longer see news articles appearing in their Google searches as of December 19, the multinational announced, dissatisfied with a federal regulation that specifies how it must share its revenues with media in Canada .
The company presented to journalists on Friday its 12-page brief which details eight changes that constitute the “bare minimum” of its conditions for participating in the Trudeau government's plan to assume part of the bill salaries of journalists in the country.
In essence, Google finds the government's expectations to be unfair and too complicated regarding the number of agreements it must conclude with media outlets. This is necessary if it wants to be exempt from the costly “mandatory and unrealistic” arbitration process provided for by a recent federal law, the details of which were revealed in a proposed rule that Google wants to modify.
More than a Web giant
The Online News Act is scheduled to come into force on December 19, 2023, six months after its adoption last June under the name C-18. All political parties in Ottawa, except the Conservative Party of Canada, voted for the text.
The other company targeted by this law, Meta, the owner of Facebook and Instagram, immediately indicated that it would never comply and has already removed the news from its platforms to exclude itself from any obligation.
The only hopes that C-18 will provide any funding to the media now rest with Google, owned by the Californian multinational Alphabet. According to the draft regulation, published in September, Ottawa wanted to extract approximately $172 million per year from this company, compared to approximately $62 million from Facebook, to pay journalists in the country.
This amount would represent about 4% of Google's revenues in Canada, according to federal calculations. Google disputes this bill, arguing that no “significant revenue” is made from news, which constitutes about 2% of all searches.
This sum [of 172 million mentioned by Ottawa] is much higher than the economic value that Google derives from news queries, and leaves a single company responsible for covering an arbitrary and substantial part of publishers' costs. Canadian press publications
— Google Canada
“This sum [of 172 million mentioned by Ottawa] is far greater than the economic value that Google derives from queries relating to news, and leaves a single company responsible for covering an arbitrary and substantial part of the costs of Canadian press publishers”, we can read in Google Canada's submission to federal consultations.
A cap on contributions
Questioned by Duty, Google said it was prepared to put at most $100 million on the table, an amount consistent with previous government estimates. Its condition: that its financial liability is limited and that its non-pecuniary aid is taken into account.
The company ensures that it does not appropriate the content of any media, but that it On the contrary, it provides a great service to news sites by redirecting Internet users there. She estimates this favor at $250 million per year.
Google fears the bad faith of certain media in the negotiations forced by Ottawa, and would like the regulations on C-18 to provide it with more flexibility and more time to conclude agreements, protected from the risk of arbitration. The company would also have liked the government to more clearly define a list of media eligible for agreements.
The Minister of Canadian Heritage, Pascale St-Onge, had instead established a certain number of criteria so that the agreements concluded were sufficient in her eyes, such as being used to pay for the production of local, regional and national news. Diverse media were to sign these agreements, including at least five indigenous people and ten from official language minority communities.
The minister indicated as recently as this week that she was hopeful of signing hear with Google on this issue. It must still publish a final version of the regulation on the application of the Online News Act, taking into account the comments made during its consultations, which have just ended.
An expected standoff
“We will analyze all the submissions we received. We will continue to communicate with those who have questions or concerns, including web giants,” said Minister Pascale St-Onge in a statement.
The Bloc Québécois spokesperson for heritage, Martin Champoux, asks the government to “actively negotiate while supporting our media so that the hemorrhage that has already begun stops”, in particular through press assistance programs during this period. standoff.
Over the past two years, Google has reached agreements with several Canadian media, including Le Devoir. Its director, Brian Myles, also warns public authorities who see “only a bluff” in Google's announcement.
“Google is a responsible corporate citizen, which is looking for a way to fund the Canadian news ecosystem. We are asking this company and the Minister of Canadian Heritage to find a way to do this, and quickly, because blocking the news would have a catastrophic effect. »
Approximately 93% of Internet searches go through Google, while its competitor Bing, from Microsoft, claims barely 3% of the market. Unlike Meta, Google continued to participate in government consultations after the passage of C-18. The company assures that it is continuing negotiations to find “a way through” with the Canadian government.