Ottawa has agreed to set a $100-million yearly cap on payments that Google will be required to make to media companies when the government’s controversial online news legislation takes effect at the end of the year.
The announcement Wednesday has the Liberals bending to the tech giant’s demands after Google threatened back in February to remove news from its platform.
The Online News Act compels tech giants to enter into compensation agreements with news publishers for content that appears on Google sites and contributes to the company’s revenues.
A formula in the government’s draft regulations to implement the bill would have had Google contribute up to $172 million to news organizations. Google balked, saying it was expecting a figure closer to $100 million, based on what it said was a previous estimate from Canadian Heritage officials.
The company appears to have gotten what it wanted after an extended period of negotiation.
Still, Canadian Heritage Minister Pascale St-Onge called it a “historic development,” insisting Wednesday that the agreement was ultimately a win for the government and for the local news publishers it is seeking to support.
“We have found a path forward to answer Google’s questions about the process and the act. Google wanted certainty about the amount of compensation it would have to pay to Canadian news outlets,” she said on Parliament Hill.
“Canada reserves the right to reopen our regulations if there are better agreements struck elsewhere in the world.”
Google’s president of global affairs, Kent Walker, thanked the minister for “acknowledging our concerns and deeply engaging in a series of productive meetings about how they might be addressed.”
He said in a statement that the “extensive discussions” addressed the company’s “core issues” with the bill.
“While we work with the government through the exemption process based on the regulations that will be published shortly, we will continue sending valuable traffic to Canadian publishers,” Walker said.
The deal will allow Google to comply with the legislation by paying into a single collective bargaining group that will serve as a media fund.
Meta, on the other hand, complied simply by blocking all news content from Canadian users of its largest platforms, Instagram and Facebook. A statement from the company Wednesday suggested that hardline approach hasn’t changed.
“Unlike search engines, we do not proactively pull news from the internet to place in our users’ feeds, and we have long been clear that the only way we can reasonably comply with the Online News Act is by ending news availability for people in Canada,” Facebook wrote.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was satisfied with the agreement with Google and held out hope that Meta would eventually come around.
“Unfortunately, Meta continues to completely abdicate any responsibility towards democratic institutions and even stability,” he said, “but we’re going to continue to work positively in those areas.”
Last month, News Media Canada—a lobby group for hundreds of Canadian newspapers and magazines—said it agreed with many of the issues Google raised during the back-and-forth over how the bill would be implemented. The group said there should be a cap on how much the search giant would have to pay under the law.
But Friends, an advocacy group for Canadian broadcasters, said the deal doesn’t deliver the kind of support for journalism that it had been hoping to see.
“We will be looking to the regulations to ensure that smaller, independent, and equity-seeking media groups are assured access to funding,” executive director Marla Boltman said in a statement.
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