Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, says Australia’s plan to compel digital giants to pay media outlets for news content is «unworkable» and undermines a «fundamental principle» of the Internet.
Canberra follows laws the first of their kind in the world that require Google and Facebook to compensate Australian news organizations, or pay millions of dollars in fines.
The aggressive move to check the power of the tech giants sparked a backlash from US companies, with Facebook warning that Australians could be prevented from sharing articles on its «news feed», while Google was testing hiding local news in searches.
Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who created the web in 1989, said in a report presented to the Australian Senate investigation that he was «concerned that the code risked violating a fundamental principle of the web by requiring payment to be linked to specific content on the Internet.»
«The ability to link freely — meaning without restrictions in terms of linked site content and without financial fees — is fundamental to how the web works, how it has prospered so far, and how it will continue to grow in the coming decades,» he wrote.
In the presentation dated January 18, Berners-Lee said he supported the need to «appropriately reward publishers» for their work but that «restrictions on the use of text links are not the correct way to achieve this goal.»
«If this precedent is followed elsewhere, it may render the web inapplicable worldwide,» he wrote.
Therefore, I respectfully urge the Committee to remove this mechanism from the Code. «
The US Trade Representative’s office also urged Australia to abandon its «onerous» plan, saying there could be «long-term negative consequences» for consumers and businesses.
The Canberra Initiative has been closely watched around the world, as news media around the world are struggling in an increasingly digital economy as major tech companies overwhelmingly receive advertising revenue.
The planned legislation has won widespread support from Australian media organizations, many of which have been hit hard by declining revenues during the coronavirus pandemic.
The digital giants have also filed requests for investigation, as Facebook urged a return to the voluntary code of conduct that Canberra first discussed.
«Facebook is still willing to pay Australian news publishers for the news content available on Facebook, as long as it is subject to genuine commercial considerations,» she said.
Google said that some amendments to the draft proposal had improved the law, but called for several other amendments to the rules.
Australia plans to introduce the new rules this year, with the Senate committee scheduled to hold public hearings on Friday.
hr / arb / jah