Could Denmark force Facebook to pay for news content?

Tech giants such as Facebook and Google should pay for content published by media organisations on their platform, says Denmark’s minister for culture.

Could Denmark force Facebook to pay for news content?
Photo: Johanna Geron/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

The minister, Joy Mogensen, said on Friday that she would put forward a bill next month which would see Denmark follow Australia’s footsteps and require tech companies like Facebook to pay publishers if news content is posted on their websites.

Mogensen said that society had been “naïve” after Facebook blocked media pages in Australia in response to the country’s news media code.

“It is very concerning because it puts a question mark against the democratic mentality in one of the world’s most dominant media companies,” Mogensen told news wire Ritzau.

“I don’t know whether it’s because they don’t understand it or don’t care about the importance news media has in a democratic society. It is (media) who bring forth journalistic-based knowledge,” she said.

In 2019, the EU passed a copyright directive which provides for a minimum level of standards in member states.

But Mogensen said she wanted to go further than EU rules by giving Danish media organisations the power to negotiate with tech firms collectively, echoing the Australian government’s proposed news media code.

“We have chosen to go further than the EU is requiring by giving Danish media organisations the opportunity negotiate with tech giants,” she said.

“As such, they won’t stand one by one and have to fight with very big and powerful companies, as the tech giants have become,” she continued.

If there is not agreement between parties, disputes would be settled by Denmark’s copyright licence board (Ophavsretslicensnævnet), according to the proposal. A Supreme Court judge sits on the adjudication board.

In a September 2020 interview with Journalisten, the professional journal for the Danish media sector, Facebook’s Nordics director Martin Ruby said such a proposal would be “not fair”, citing value created for media by the social media site.

As only 4 percent of content on Facebook is news articles, there is no economic argument for the company to pay for news, Ruby argued.

Facebook registered a profit of over 29 billion dollars in 2020.

Mogensen rejected Ruby’s argument in comments on Friday.

“That shows an indifference to what gives their product value,” the minister said.

“If the tech giants did not have properly produced content from artists or companies, what would be the reason for us, as users, to go to them?” she said to Ritzau.

“It would then quickly become a place for tin foil hats and conspiracy theories. That would make Facebook decline on value,” she claimed.

The forthcoming bill is currently at the so-called hearing stage before formally being submitted to parliament.

READ ALSO: Facebook shuts down Danish coronavirus protest group

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Denmark proposes new law to make Facebook pay for news and music

The government is to forward a bill on Friday proposing tech giants such as Facebook and Google pay Danish media for using content on their platforms.

Denmark proposes new law to make Facebook pay for news and music
File photo: Regis Duvignau/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

The proposal will also mean platforms used to share media, such as YouTube, will be required to make agreements with rights holders in order to display videos or music, the Ministry of Culture said in a statement.

A comparable law recently took effect in Australia, resulting in all news pages being temporarily blocked for Facebook users in the southern hemisphere country.

READ ALSO: Could Denmark force Facebook to pay for news content?

“The media plays a central role in our democracy and ensures that public debate takes place on an infrormed basis,”culture minister Joy Mogensen said in the statement.

“If the media are to be able to continue making journalism, they should of course be paid for its use,” she added.

The proposal will provide for rights holders such as musicians or media outlets to be given a new publishing right which will enable them to decide who can use their content.

As such, companies like Facebook and Google will need permission to use the content online.

The Danish proposal builds on an EU directive which gives individual media outlets the right to agree deals with tech giants.

The bill put forward by Mogensen will allow Danish media to make a collective agreement with the tech companies providing for payment when their content is used.

An interest organisation for Danish media companies has backed the proposal.

“We have wanted to be able to enter collective agreements with tech giants because that would strengthen the media companies’ position,” Louise Brincker, CEO of Danske Medier, told newspaper Berlingske. Brincker noted she had not yet read the full proposal.

Media will not be obliged to make agreements with the tech companies, however. Complaints to the Danish copyright board, Ophavsretslicensnævnet, will be possible under the new law, should it be passed by parliament.

The bill will become law on June 7th should it receive the backing of a parliamentary majority.

Both Facebook and Google decline to comment to Berlingske on the matter, stating they had yet to see the bill in full.