A key question that any broad regulatory framework for digital platforms must address is what, if any, interventions are necessary to mediate the relationship between digital platforms and the news media. In many countries, the news media have long been subject to some form of government regulation and/or support, typically under the presumption that the cultivation and maintenance of an informed citizenry is essential to the effective functioning of the political process. But recently, digital platforms have emerged to establish a still-evolving, much-debated, and often unregulated position of prominence in national news ecosystems, serving as important intermediaries in the relationship between news organizations and their audiences.

Platforms’ emergence into this role has had a wide range of well-documented, disruptive effects. Chief among these has been an acceleration of the unbundling of news and the further weakening of the revenue models associated with its production and distribution. Whereas would-be news readers were once forced to buy entire newspapers or visit ad-packed home pages to access stories, platforms now offer readers a smorgasbord of individual news stories they can sample (nearly) freely, empowering users to potentially reshape the nature of the news they receive (Martin and Dwyer 2019). Platforms have also tinted the windows of story discovery, guiding users’ access to news with algorithmic content curation systems that favor emotionally charged and engagement-inducing content, veracity not necessarily withstanding (Ingram 2018; Rayson 2017). And though platforms’ recommendation algorithms have garnered attention for their role in the propagation of disinformation, they have also created new incentive systems feeding directly into the editorial values that guide mainstream news organizations, promoting the publicisation, if not publication, of would-be viral content (Wang 2015).

Given these complexities, it is not surprising that the platform-press relationship has been rife with conflict. Nor is it surprising that policymakers across many national contexts, concerned with maintaining the robust news ecosystems essential to democracy, have increasingly turned their attention to the relationship.

This chapter focuses on efforts by policymakers to mandate that digital communications platforms (including search engines and social networks) that host or show any news content compensate the content’s publishers. The approach in this chapter is cross-national and comparative, focusing on three countries (France, Germany, and Australia) that have taken the most significant regulatory actions internationally in recent years, while at the same time noting actions that have taken place in other countries such as Belgium and Spain, and at the supranational level (e.g., the European Union). This chapter will consider not only the substance of the regulatory interventions that have been proposed and implemented, but also the political dynamics surrounding them and the critiques they have generated.

Case Study Overview

The three countries we chose as case studies have approached legislating platform-publisher relationships from different angles but still, as we detail below, have ended up acting out similar plays.

Those similarities owe much to the transitional trends that have affected publishers. For the past fifteen-odd years, consumer attention and ad revenue have ebbed away from the lucrative pages of newspapers and onto the platform-dominated internet. For almost as long, publishers and (American) platforms have engaged in a struggle over whether and how platforms, which link to publishers’ content, should compensate publishers. The warring has focused on “snippets”, short extracts of news articles often displayed alongside links; for example, on a Facebook post or in Google searches. Digital platforms claim they owe publishers nothing for using snippets; publishers disagree, but rely on digital platforms to distribute their content and thus have little say.

Their disagreements have taken on a familiar cadence: publishers sue (or national governments legislate against) platforms to get them to cough up, ostensibly over snippets; platforms battle the lawsuits or legislation and push publishers to drop their claims, sometimes offering compensatory sums in lieu of recognizing publishers’ putative rights over snippets; if publishers do not comply, platforms play hardball, rallying the public against the legislation and dropping publisher-specific snippets from their services; publishers, facing traffic drops after their snippets have been dropped from platforms, give in, and the fight goes dormant until a few years later.


For the past fifteen years, French news publishers and (American) platforms have engaged in repeated iterations of the struggle just described. Only recently was the pattern broken. Following the French legislature’s transduction of an E.U. directive establishing press copyrights over snippets, platforms (specifically Google) have begun inking the licensing deals with French news publishers that were once anathema to them.

French publishers’ war with Google began in 2005, when the wire service Agence France-Presse (AFP) sued Google, alleging that Google News was illegally using AFP’s content (Isbell 2010). As a wire service, AFP did not directly deliver news to readers, but instead offered it to news publishers under individual licensing agreements. When Google News crawled those publishers’ sites, it found and freely displayed snippets of all content, including stories and images sourced from AFP. That, AFP claimed in its 2005 lawsuit, was illegal because Google had no license agreement for the AFP content. Google rejected AFP’s claim, arguing that news, facts, and small bits of text like headlines and snippets could, not be copyrighted. AFP’s suit, Google argued, threatened the freedom of information on the Internet (Isbell 2010).

According to AFP however, the organization was not suing Google over sharing intangible facts or language: it was suing Google for resharing and profiting from AFP’s original photographs and stories, both of which, the company said, required significant effort and money to produce (AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE v. GOOGLE INC., 2007). Google and AFP settled their case in 2007, and although financial terms of the deal were not released, Google ended up acquiring a license for AFP’s content, just as it had earlier that year with the Associated Press (Auchard 2007).

By 2012, French news publishers were in the midst of a financial crisis afflicting news organizations worldwide. Despite government subsidies of €1.2 billion, not a single national newspaper was profitable (The Economist 2012). Amidst that backdrop, French news publishers revived AFP’s argument—that Google ought to compensate them for its usage of snippets from their articles.

Siding with French publishers, President François Hollande threatened to adopt neighboring Germany’s leisttungschutzreicht (LSR), a law creating additional copyrights for the news media, should Google not pay up. That move prompted threats from Google to completely delink French news media sites from Google search results (AFP 2012; Ternisien 2013). But in February of 2013, following a new and supposedly unrelated proposal by Hollande to tax Google over its data collection practices, the company settled with French publishers, paying out a lump sum of €60 million into a digital innovation fund (Pfanner 2013). This payout framework was notably different than the Google-AFP deal. No licensing agreements were struck, and despite significant support from the national government, French publishers received no acknowledgement of their “ownership” of snippets (Schmidt 2013).

Google had reached a similar outcome with Belgian publishers three months earlier. Settling a lawsuit over snippets and content caching, the company had paid an unspecified amount (reportedly €5 million, much of which was made up of purchases on Google’s own ad platform) while unequivocally stating that it was not compensating news publishers for the right to use their content (Geerts 2012). In Google’s persistent argument, previewing article snippets in Google Search was not illegal content appropriation, but an efficient improvement to the web, good for the end-user. And if previews deterred some searchers from visiting the snippeted site, Google theorized, those lost page views were more than made up for by the traffic its engine referred (Silva 2020a).

Despite the Google payouts, French publishers continued to struggle economically. Newspaper revenue in the country dropped by over a third from 2007 to 2017, with over two-thirds of that loss stemming from decreased advertising (Assouline 2019; Autorité de la concurrence 2020). Meanwhile, other EU countries tried and failed to funnel platform money to news publishers. In Spain, the government passed legislation that would force Google to pay publishers for displaying snippets. Google responded by shutting down Google News Spain, damaging Spanish news publishers’ traffic (Athey et al. 2017). In Germany, the government approved an ancillary press copyright, after which Google turned off snippets for publications that would not sign free licensing deals, depressing their traffic numbers until they conceded two weeks later (Fels 2014).

Change in Europe did not arrive until 2019. After a court threw out Germany’s LSR, the EU passed its Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, Article 15 of which extended traditional press copyrights to include “neighboring” rights protecting snippets (Council Directive 2019/790, 2019), which could be wielded against large digital platforms. Notably, the EU principle of subsidiarity prevents the Union from enacting legislation unless the goals of the legislation cannot be achieved by individual member states acting alone (Consolidated Version of the Treaty on European Union—TITLE 1, Article 5, n.d.). Thus, the directive’s passage demonstrated the European Parliament’s belief that it would take a consolidated union rather than a few lone states to coerce platform compliance on copyrights.

Before the EU Directive passed, France, where licensing battles had begun nearly 20 years earlier, had already queued up press copyright legislation; and in July of 2019, three months after the directive’s passage, the country ratified its new copyright law as a transduction of the directive (Assouline 2019; Piquard 2019). In response, as it had done in Germany and Spain before, Google refused to bargain with French news publishers, instead asking all of them for free licenses to use snippeted content. The company’s line to publishers was essentially “We don’t value your snippets enough to pay for them. Give them to us for free, or we’ll drop them and you’ll face the traffic crashes German holdouts did.” Google’s VP of News published a blog stating, in general terms, that the company would not pay publishers for people clicking on links, though the EU/French legislation dealt with the display of snippets, not the clicking of links (Gingras 2019).

French publishers sued Google, arguing the company was ignoring the spirit of the new law (as captured in its title, Proposal for a law to create a neighboring right for the benefit of press agencies and press publishers). The law, publishers claimed, explicitly stated it was designed to protect the press’ financial investments in producing news, to uphold the public’s interest in a free and pluralist news ecosystem (Council Directive 2019/790, 2019). The French Competition Authority agreed. In its decision, the Authority accused Google of using its dominant market position (the company controlled 93% of the national search market at the time) to dictate terms to publishers, who were reliant on the company’s irreplaceable referral services. The Authority argued that by asking companies to give up content rights in exchange for those services and universally refusing negotiation, Google was abusing the economic dependence of others, a breach of European competition law (Autorité de la concurrence 2020). Moreover, the Authority noted, the EU directive article on press copyrights was written with the explicit purpose of shifting bargaining power away from platforms and to news publishers, a group the directive hailed as essential to information availability and democracy (Council Directive 2019/790, 2019). The Authority’s decision ordered Google to bargain in good faith with publishers over license compensation, and after a failed legal appeal by Google, was upheld by a French court (Rosemain 2020).

In November of 2020, a handful of French news publishers became the first in the world to sign government-mandated content licensing agreements with a digital platform—in this case, Google (Missoffe 2020; Rosemain 2021). By January of 2021, a major French press union representing nearly 300 titles announced it had reached a framework finalizing agreements with Google on behalf of nearly half its members, with more to come (L’Alliance Presse 2021).

These licensing agreements supposedly require Google to compensate news publishers for the company’s use of content falling under the publishers’ neighboring rights, though Google and the publishers disagree on whether that means Google is paying for snippets. APIG, the press union, has pointed out that Google only signed the licensing agreements after being sued under new EU/French laws (as the company admitted in a blog post) (Lomas 2021; Missoffe 2020) that established copyrights for snippets (Reda, n.d.). Therefore, the union says, the neighboring rights deals obviously cover snippets (Lomas 2021). A January 2021 statement by Google showed that the company officially begs to differ (Lomas 2021).

The deals are opaque, at least to the public. Individual news publishers will reportedly be paid pre-calculated amounts on three-year contracts, but remuneration for their copyright licensing will be subsumed into payments from Google’s News Showcase program, which compensates publishers for their “editorial expertise” and for allowing Google’s customers beyond-the-paywall access to news content (Bender 2020; European Publishers Council 2020; Lomas 2021). Such legal legerdemain obscures how much Google is paying for what and explains how the company, even after signing licensing deals that stemmed from lawsuits over snippet appropriation, can still maintain that they are not compensating publishers for snippets.

Google has long maintained that Google Search is more of an information conduit—a platform—than a content service (Silva 2021b). The former designation, based on Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, has more neutral connotations than the latter and, at least in the US, confers a number of legal protections (Kosseff 2019); as such, Google has clear incentives to maintain that it will not pay for content (Silva 2021b). Additionally, were Google to pay news publishers, other content creators might well come knocking for their own share.

As of June 2021, France is the only EU country that has implemented the press publisher section of the EU copyright directive (The International Association On the Digital Public Domain 2020). The supposedly mandatory deadline for doing so has, in fact, passed by, as EU member states wrestle with other sections of the directive. But if and when countries do transduce the new press laws, they may well walk the path paved by France and Google, wherein compensation for publishers’ neighboring copyrights is subsumed into a larger program like Google’s News Showcase, and publishers accept a much-needed money line in exchange for not pressing copyright issues.


In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel delivered a speech to the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), calling for the government to pass new copyrights protecting press publishers in the digital world. Thus began a tussle with Google.

In trying to protect publishers, the government pursued a legalistic path that would update copyright laws to include a leistungsschutzrecht—or ancillary copyright—for news snippets. The LSR offered news publishers a one-year copyright term, during which they would have the exclusive right to license snippets for commercial use by search engines and similar services (Achtes Gesetz Zur Änderung Des Urheberrechtsgesetzes 2013). Under the LSR, if Google wished to display snippets from Der Spiegel stories in its search service, it would be up to the outlet to decide whether and how much Google should pay.

As Germany’s intercession on behalf of news publishers came through copyright law, protests, unsurprisingly, came not just from platforms, but from advocates of information freedom like Wikimedia Deutschland and Creative Commons (Abrell, n.d.; Unterstützer, n.d.). Some critics decried the ambiguity of the law—it did not explicitly set a minimum length of content qualifying for copyright, nor did it clearly define the types of companies who would have to pay copyright fees (Kreutzer et al. 2011). Others claimed that meaningful news copyrights were encapsulated by existing copyright law and that the LSR, because it covered small bits of text, gave publishers a newfound and dangerous power to copyright facts and chunks of the German language (Max-Planck-Institut für Ibender 2013).

Google, the main target of the LSR, called the day of its passage a “black day for the Internet in Germany” (“Google lehnt Lizenzierungspflicht ab,” 2012). A spokesman expressed the company’s belief that economic partnerships were a better path forward than laws (a foreshadowing of Google’s deal making in France eight years later) (“Google lehnt Lizenzierungspflicht ab,” 2012).

As the LSR wound its way through the Bundestag, Google began its hardball routine. Before the bill passed, Google set up an anti-LSR website titled “Defend Your Net” and urged users to lobby politicians in opposition to the law (Google 2012). Then, after the LSR became law, Google asked German news publishers to sign a waiver allowing the company to freely use snippets extracted from their articles. A group of publishers (notable exceptions included Der Spiegel) refused and banded together under a collection society, VG Media (now Corint Media) to demand payment for snippeting. Google, in turn, decided that the cost of paying for snippets was not worth their value, or that it could bully news publishers into submission; when the LSR became active, the company stopped showing snippets from the rebellious publishers in its search engine and news service. Traffic to the news publishers of VG Media subsequently plummeted. Axel Springer, a German media giant, reported a loss of 40% of Google Search traffic and 80% of Google News traffic to its properties during the snippet abstention period (Fels 2014). And so two weeks after revoking Google’s free snippeting rights, Springer and most of the publications under VG Media relented, allowing Google to resume snippeting (ten Wolde and Auchard 2014).

For years after Google’s triumph, the LSR existed in a phantom state, challenged by lawsuits, and ineffective in helping publishers claim licensing fees. That lasted until 2019, when the LSR was felled by the European Court of Justice over a technicality: Germany had not notified the EU of the legislation, rendering it illegal (VG Media Gesellschaft zur Verwertung der Urheber- und Leistungsschutzrechte von Medienunternehmen mbH v Google LLC, successor in law to Google Inc., 2019).

In 2018, the LSR’s principles were formally adopted by the EU in its Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Market (Council Directive 2019/790, 2019). A short while later, preempting German transduction of the EU directive into national law, Google began dispersing funds to news publishers. In June of 2020, the company signed licensing agreements totaling $300M with publishers in Germany (as well as publishers in Australia and Brazil), heralding in its press release, a quote from the head of Spiegel Group, one of the publishers that had originally allowed Google to freely use snippets and did not join the bargaining collective (Bender 2020). Then, in October of 2020, Google launched News Showcase, another product that would allow publishers to license content to the company. Its announcement once more hailed three German publications that had declined to join VG Media and bargain against Google (Pichai 2020; VG Media, n.d.).

Google News Showcase was in fact open to all publishers, but some, including Germany’s Axel Springer, stayed away, arguing that Google’s largesse came with contractual strings and might be yanked away if news publishers participated in legal claims under the EU directive (European Publishers Council 2020). Indeed, Axel Springer signed a content licensing deal with Facebook in May of 2021, only on the explicit grounds that the deal would not cover future copyright claims (Wienker 2021).

Most news publishers have neither the clout nor the capital of Axel Springer. Just as they did in France, publishers in Germany have signed on in large number to Facebook and Google’s news licensing schemes, eschewing fights about the legal position of snippets to gain access to cash infusions.


In 2019, when the Australian government first announced it would draft legislation to support news publishers in their fight to claim compensation from digital platforms, it had already witnessed the nearly decade-long travails of European governments making similar attempts.

Perhaps because of the troubles European governments had faced, the Australian government sharply diverged from their model of legislation. Rather than pursuing a press copyright that would give publishers a narrow avenue to extract payment from digital platforms, the Australian government took a broader approach. Citing antitrust and public interest philosophies, it brought forth a mandatory news bargaining code governing platform-publisher relationships, the final version of which included provisions forcing platforms to, among other things:

  1. 1.

    Pay news publishers for the right to link to or show snippets from news stories at a rate subject to final offer arbitration.

  2. 2.

    Turn over data to news publishers about platform users’ interactions with their content.

  3. 3.

    Notify news publishers in advance about platform algorithm updates that might affect the ranking or display of their content (Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020, 2020).

The introduction of Australia’s mandatory bargaining code followed over a decade of complaints by domestic publishers that digital platforms (which Australian media baron Robert Murdoch once called “content kleptomaniacs”) effectively steal content by displaying snippets and previews of news without paying licensing fees (Dawber 2011; Sarno 2009).

Three years prior to the bargaining code’s introduction, then-treasurer (now Prime Minister) Scott Morrison announced an inquiry into digital platforms’ effect on competition in media and advertising. One goal of the inquiry was to investigate the impact of digital platforms on the public supply of news and journalism (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2019). The Digital Platforms Inquiry report found that platforms’ dominant position as information distributors had given them significant bargaining power over the news companies whose content they displayed. The report resolved that given the news industry’s vital importance to democracy, the major platforms should each establish a code of conduct addressing that bargaining imbalance (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2019). After giving platforms and publishers about a year to negotiate over what such a code might look like, the Australian government announced in 2020 that it had lost confidence in their talks (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2021). Thus, the mandatory bargaining code was born.

In the past, Google had responded to legislative forays in Germany and Spain by pressuring news publishers to ignore the legislation and give the company free license to display snippets. The Australian legislation attempted to tie Google’s hands. Under the bargaining code, platforms could no longer just eliminate certain publishers’ snippets to avoid paying them, because links, too, would require a license to display (Treasury Laws Amendment (News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code) Bill 2020, 2020). And because the code contained a non-discrimination clause, links from certain publications could not simply be delisted (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2021): the legislation rolled must-pay and must-carry provisions together. At any rate, it would be difficult for Google to run a search engine without linking to news content, especially given the term’s loose definition. For the company, the legislation presented a binary nuclear option: bargain on new terms with publishers or leave the Australian search market.

Australian government intervention in the platform-publisher relationship came during a challenging time for the country’s news publishers. Following global trends, Australian newspaper revenue had collapsed over the prior two decades. From 2002 to 2018, Australian papers lost 23% of their subscription revenue and 87% of their classified ad revenue, the latter of which, lost to online specialist sites like Carsales (an auto advertising website) and seek (a job advertising site), made up 92% of papers’ overall revenue decline (AlphaBeta Australia 2020). Between 2008 and 2018, the number of local and regional papers in the country declined by 15%, a loss of 106 outlets, the closures of which left 21 local government areas with no local or regional paper. The fall of papers, noted the Australian government, had been deleterious to democracy. In 2018, the ACCC (Australian Consumer and Competition Commission) found that in surviving papers, reporting on local government and local courts had dropped by 26 and 40% respectively (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2019).

The government’s abrupt timing in imposing the mandatory bargaining code—abrogating the voluntary negotiating period—was brought on by a period of especially acute pain for Australian news publishers (Crowe 2020). Reduced advertising due to the Covid-19 pandemic led many Australian news organizations to close or cut back operations, even as the pandemic and an unusually active bushfire season spiked domestic demand for news (Helliker 2020). News Corp, Australia’s most prominent publisher, announced that 36 of its papers in the country would shut down, and another 76 would fully migrate online. Australian Community Media, the country’s largest owner of regional and rural publications, cut back operations at 77 papers over the course of the pandemic (The Public Interest Journalism Initiative, n.d.).

Strikingly, as Australian newspapers’ revenue declined, international demand for news increased. From 2013 to 2018, the global number of online news subscriptions rose 307%, growing by 26 million and eclipsing the 0.5% (3 million) decrease in print subscriptions (AlphaBeta Australia 2020).

Growing demand for news has coincided with massive growth for platforms like Facebook and Google, which have expanded to capture a dominant share of the digital advertising revenues in Australia (AlphaBeta Australia 2020; Hunter and Samios 2020). Some have linked the rise of platforms to the fall of newspapers (Cantwell 2020; Kang 2020; Stoller 2019; Sullivan 2021). Data, however show that newspaper display ad revenue rose approximately 6% from 2002 to 2018 (AlphaBeta Australia 2020). Of course, as more advertising dollars migrate online, the proportion controlled by the largest platforms dwarfs the share that news organizations are able to capture. Further, as submissions to the ACCC’s Digital Platform Inquiry note, many news organizations contend that platform growth has been built on the backs of publishers, with the platforms’ dominant market position enabling them to bully news organizations into ceding free content. As that bargaining imbalance was the impetus for government action, payouts from platforms to publishers under the bargaining code are meant as compensation for platforms’ display of publishers’ news content.

Of course, in redistributing power to news organizations, the government took it away from platforms companies, which responded with umbrage. Immediately after the draft bargaining code’s announcement, Google and Facebook both cited internal figures suggesting that news content is responsible for only small portions of their traffic and revenue (Barrett and Kaye 2020; Silva 2020b), and, moreover, that platforms delivered outsized referral benefits to the news media (Facebook 2020; Google 2021). Facebook announced that should the legislation pass, it would block all news sharing on the platform (Cheik-Hussein 2020). Google launched an offensive in the public sphere, displaying pop-up ads on its services that asked users and content creators to lobby the Australian government against the bargaining code (Zhou 2020). The company also made repeated reference to its contributions to the Australian economy, stressing that it provides a platform to 1.3 million domestic businesses, contributes “$53 billion in benefits” to the Australian economy, and “supports 116,000 jobs across the country” (Google 2021; Silva 2019, 2021b).

The platforms were not the only stakeholders that were critical of the bargaining code. A number of analysts raised concerns that by allowing compensation to be determined via negotiations between platforms and individual news organizations, the Australian system would ultimately favor large, established, national news organizations relative to smaller, local, or independent news organizations with even less bargaining power (Hui and Tripti 2021). Many small publishers are not eligible for compensation from the platforms under the code (Samios 2020). Outside the media, others raised concerns that allowing entities to charge others for the ability to display a hyperlink wound fundamentally undermine the web (McGuirk and Chan 2021; Visentin 2021a).

As debate over the bargaining code continued, in June of 2020, Google announced the launch of News Showcase, a licensing program through which the company would pay news publishers in exchange for editorial curation and offering Google users access to normally paywalled articles (Bender 2020). Citing its example in France, Google offered to compensate Australian publishers through News Showcase (in place of arbitrated bargaining), but Australian officials and publishers expressed skepticism (Samios and Visentin 2021). Nonetheless, in late January of 2021, Google accelerated the timeline for rolling out News Showcase in Australia (Samios and Visentin 2021). At the same time, Google threatened to wholly remove Google Search from the Australian market should the bargaining code not change (Cave 2021a; Silva 2021a). According to the company, its breaking points included the mandate of compensation decided by final offer arbitration, restrictions on linking, and the requirement to detail algorithm updates in advance to news publishers (Silva 2021b).

Facebook took its objections one step further, blocking the viewing and sharing of all news links for Australian users in February 2021 (Cherney 2021). This Facebook news blackout was short-lived, lasting about a week, until the Australian government made some concessions in the terms of the bargaining code, including giving platforms more time to negotiate with publishers and also allowing platforms to avoid the bargaining code if they struck enough deals with individual news publishers (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2021; Isaac and Cave 2021; Meade et al. 2021). And so, concurrently with the concessions and the lifting of the blackout, Google and Facebook began signing licensing deals with Australian publishers (News Corp 2021; Visentin 2021b). The legislation officially passed immediately after (Boom 2021).

The eight day Facebook news blackout served as a catalyst for a more intensive analysis of the role of large digital platforms in news ecosystems. On the one hand, the bulk of the news blocked from being posted and shared on Facebook was still directly accessible online, which highlights the importance of not conflating large digital platforms with the broader Internet. On the other hand, research showed immediate and substantial drops in traffic to Australian news sites as a result of the blackout (Purtill 2021). Most news organizations are not in a financial position to absorb such traffic (and associated revenue) losses for any prolonged period of time. However, there is evidence that news consumers respond to the loss of news sources on Facebook by accessing them directly, such that initial traffic losses can be overcome over time (Mercer 2021; Napoli 2019).

Also, as some analysts have pointed out, for some segments of the population, accessing news outlets directly is a costlier proposition than doing so through a platform. Specifically, a small (generally lower-income) subset of the population relies primarily on mobile devices for their Internet access and often has pre-paid rate plans in which Facebook access is cheaper than general web access (Chanel 2021). For this segment of the population, the Facebook news blackout may have deprived them of their most affordable mechanism for accessing news online.

The other issue that the Facebook blackout brought to the forefront is how dominant digital platforms define news. When Facebook instituted its news blackout, analysts quickly noted that the platform’s operational definition of news was both expansive and idiosyncratic (Cave 2021b). In addition to news organizations, Facebook blocked the posts of state health departments and emergency and weather services. Posts for some political candidates were blocked, as were those of some unions and nonprofit groups working with victims of poverty and domestic violence. But despite this expansive (and difficult to justify) definition of news, posts by conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine groups remained up (Cave 2021b).

And while some of the pages that Facebook blocked were quickly restored, others took over week, prompting questions from some of the company’s critics as to whether the initial expansiveness of the blackout was an intentional show of force in their negotiations with the Australian government (Cave 2021b). Such accusations, if true, are troubling; as is the alternate explanation—that the company is that ill-equipped to effectively define a news organization. The end result, in any case, has been additional fuel to the fire of concerns about the massive gatekeeping power wielded by a select few digital platforms (see, e.g., Scola 2021).


The ripple effects of what has taken place in France and Australia have been widespread, with policymakers in the United States and Canada vowing to follow Australia’s lead (Espinoza and Barker 2021; Klar 2021; Ljunggren 2021), even in light of how disruptive and contentious the situation became. Should the government efforts described in this chapter’s three case studies migrate to other countries, then it would seem that the question of whether dominant digital platforms should compensate news organizations will be one of the past, and the questions left will be about how that will transpire.

As of June 2021, the Australian Treasurer has signaled that as long as Facebook and Google continue making side payments to publishers, the other requirements of the News Media and Digital Platforms Mandatory Bargaining Code can be forgotten (Isaac and Cave 2021). Likewise, the French government has been silent on arguments about the copyright-worthy sanctity of snippets. There, it seems that so long as Google compensates publishers, the government will overlook whether or not the company is specifically paying for (or says it is paying for) snippets. For all intents and purposes, both laws have become elaborate mechanisms for extracting money from platforms to deliver to the struggling news media. But even if the laws are meant to be throwaway tools for leveraging money, they still shape its dispersion amongst outlets, potentially distorting the laws’ public interest goals.

As noted above, one primary critique of the Australian model has been that it favors large, national news organizations over local and/or independent outlets, a side-effect of provisions which see Google and Facebook paying out money in part according to traffic (Missoffe 2021) and require the companies to simply sign “enough” deals before being freed of the code (Meade et al. 2021). Another critique holds that the Australian and French models prop up old-school journalism outfits, disincentivising evolution of the press (Ingram and Jarvis 2021), and perhaps also undermining access to diverse viewpoints.

But other approaches, potentially better at supporting diverse, locally-oriented sources of news, exist. One such proposal suggests taxing platforms and placing funds in an endowment tasked with equitably supporting local, independent, and non-commercial journalism, or supporting a network of local fact-checking organizations (see, e.g., Karr and Aaron 2019; Superfund for the Internet Proposal Summary, n.d.). Another proposal advocates using national infrastructure funds to provide media vouchers to citizens, thus allotting support to news media along grassroots preference lines (Waldman 2021). But it remains to be seen whether these alternative approaches will gain traction in subsequent national contexts given the prominence of competition law as a contemporary instrument in media regulation. Much will depend, in all likelihood, on how the situations in Australia and Europe play out in the short term.

A key goal in any approach should—from a freedom of the press standpoint—be to minimize to the extent possible the role that governments play in determining which news organizations receive platform funding and how the available funds are distributed across them. An independent news media demands as much. But, as in so many aspects of platform governance, the platforms have not engendered confidence in terms of their ability to make decisions that are well-attuned to serving communities’ information needs (Napoli 2019). Ultimately, as these case studies have illustrated, platforms possess tremendous leverage in their relationships with even the largest news organizations, and so, in the absence of an existential redefinition of the news media or a massive transition to a primarily non-commercial model of journalism (probably the preferred outcome in all of this; see Pickard 2019), government mandates of some type seem essential to assuring that at least some of the advertising revenues that platforms have diverted from the news ecosystem find their way to the news organizations that are so vital to an informed citizenry.