Editorial. House Panel strikes blow for Big Tech regulation – BusinessLine


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For news publishers, a regulatory breakthrough could be in sight. They have been straining to ensure a fair share of the digital advertising revenues earned by the Big Tech platforms — who monetise content generated by the former and pocket much of it.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance has sought to address the imbalances here.
“India has diverse and numerous news publishers who get advertising revenues primarily through Systematically Important Digital Intermediaries (SIDIs) and [we] are of the opinion that regulatory provisions are required to ensure that news publishers are able to establish contracts with these SIDIs through a fair and transparent process,” the Committee said in its report on ‘Anti-Competitive Practices by Big Tech Companies’, tabled in Parliament last week.
Indeed, if global precedents, especially developments in Australia following the enactment of the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code in March 2021, are any indication, mandatory contracts with the tech platforms are the only route to ensuring that news is awarded its fair value.
The Australian government has found that as many as 30 commercial agreements were struck between digital platforms (Google and Meta) and news businesses since the enactment of the Code in March 2021. Such a Code is an essential first step. This is borne out by the fact that Meta initially tried its best to block the Code, including taking the extreme step of banning the sharing of content on its platforms in Australia. Google warned it may need to leave the country.
The Code made them fall in line. In India, news organisations have been agitating before the competition regulator. In their plaint against “abuse” of dominant position by Google, the moot issue raised is that not only do the digital platforms get to keep a large share of ad revenue, but they also control the entire ecosystem including the buying and selling side of the ad network.
The news publishers have underlined that they are faced with a one-sided contract given Google’s dominance in the search business and are completely in the dark about the total advertising revenue collected by Google and the actual percentage of this revenue transferred to them. The Competition Commission of India (CCI) has ordered an investigation.
The issue, however, is not just ad revenue but how the algorithm-powered distribution of news is influencing content creation and rights over it. After Australia, France has adopted EU’s new copyright laws which make digital platforms liable for infringement. Canada and New Zealand are deliberating similar legislation.
In the US too, the Senate Committee on Judiciary has voted to advance the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act of 2022 to allow publishers greater power to collectively bargain with companies like Meta and Google.
Ultimately, news is about public interest, and the law needs to keep pace with changing realities. The Parliamentary standing committee has given a nudge in the right direction.


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