News publishers could use the Copyright Agency to gather payment from Google and Facebook

Chris Pash
By Chris Pash | 19 May 2020

One of the mechanisms proposed to gather payment from Google and Facebook for news publishers is to use the Copyright Agency.

This collecting agency currently gathers more than $100 million a year in fees on behalf of creators -- for the written word and images -- and distributes the funds to publishers and to individuals.

The advantage to using a collection agency is that the publishers would be able to collectively bargain with the giant digital platforms but at a distance.

Premium news publishers could negotiate a baseline rate or set of criteria for determining remuneration for the use of their news content.

The framework would run along the lines of collective licensing models that already exist. For example, universities pay a fee for their students to access copyrighted material and these funds are then distributed to the content owners by the Copyright Agency.

The Copyright Agency is appointed by the Australian government to manage statutory licences for the education and governmnet sectors.

Competition watchdog, the ACCC, puts the Copyright Agency option as it seeks views to develop a draft mandatory code to address bargaining power imbalances between Australia’s news media and Google and Facebook.

“The issue of appropriate remuneration may be addressed by requiring the parties to enter into collective arrangements for the payment of fixed fees for the use of news content by digital platforms,” says the ACCC in its concepts paper released today.

“This framework could involve the determination of the relevant fees in the code itself, via an arbitrator, or through collective negotiations between news media businesses and each digital platform.

“Such negotiations could be conducted by a collective of news media businesses directly, or through an intermediate body such as a collecting society.”

However, such a system wouldn't mean any change in copyright laws in Australia.

“The Australian Government has asked the ACCC to develop a mandatory bargaining code, which would not involve changes to Australian copyright law,” says the ACCC.

“Instead, we are seeking stakeholders’ views on whether it would be appropriate for the bargaining code to include a bargaining framework based on negotiations to determine fixed fees, which may be partly influenced by the operation of licence arrangements based on copyright law.”

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