Internet inventor Tim Berners-Lee said Australia’s plan to force digital giants to pay for news content to the media was “infeasible” and undermined the “fundamental principles” of the Internet.
Canberra is implementing the world’s number one law, which will 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 caused a counterattack from US companies. Facebook warned Australians may be banned from sharing articles on the “News Feed”, and Google has been trying to hide local news in search.
Berners-Lee, a computer scientist who created the Web in 1989, said in a submission to the Australian Senate that “he was concerned that the code might violate the basic principles of the Web by requiring payment for links between certain online content.”
“The ability to link freely-meaning that there are no restrictions on the content of linked sites, and no monetary costs-is critical to how the Web operates, flourishing until now and how it will continue to grow in the coming decades,” he wrote.
Berners-Lee stated in his submission on January 18 that he supports the need to give “appropriate rewards” to publishers for their work, but “the restriction of using hypertext links is not the right way to achieve this goal.”
He wrote: “If this precedent is followed elsewhere, it may render the world’s network unusable.”
“Therefore, I would urge the committee to remove this mechanism from the code.”
The Office of the United States Trade Representative also urged Australia to abandon its “heavy” plan, saying it could have “long-term negative effects” on consumers and companies.
With global news media frustrated in an increasingly digital economy, and large technology companies gaining advertising revenue with absolute advantage, Canberra’s initiative has received close attention worldwide.
The planned legislation has received widespread support from Australian media organizations, many of which have been hit by the decline in income during the coronavirus pandemic.
The digital giant also submitted comments to the investigation, and Facebook urged the restoration of the voluntary code of conduct originally proposed by Canberra.
It said: “As long as it is out of genuine commercial considerations, Facebook is still willing to pay Australian news publishers for news content provided on Facebook.”
Google said that some amendments were made to the draft proposal to improve the law, but it requested further amendments to the rules.
Australia plans to introduce new regulations this year, and the Senate committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing on Friday.