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Google Has Threatened To Pull Search From Australia If It Is Forced To Pay News Publishers For Content

The move could have ripple effects around the world, including in the United States.

Posted on January 22, 2021, at 8:22 a.m. ET

Sopa Images / SOPA Images/LightRocket via Gett

Google has threatened to pull its search engine from Australia, a country with more than 20 million internet users, if the government implements a law that would require tech platforms to pay news publishers for displaying news stories in search results.

“If this version of the [media] Code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia,” Melanie Silva, Google’s vice president for Australia and New Zealand, told the country’s Senate Economics Legislation Committee on Friday, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The statement was followed shortly after Facebook, which appeared with Google at the Senate hearing, asked the country for a six-month grace period to let it make deals directly with news outlets before it was subject to the code.

Google and Facebook have been negotiating the code with the Australian government since December 2019. The country has long sought to be the first to force the two tech platforms, which suck up most of the world’s digital advertising revenue, to pay for displaying content from news publishers who have been directly hit as a result. The move could have ripple effects around the world, including in the United States.

Hours before Silva’s remarks, Google agreed to pay news publications in France for displaying content. But in Australia, the company argued that requiring platforms to pay for links would break a fundamental principle of the internet — the ability for sites to be able to freely link to each other.

“Just like you don’t pay to include a hyperlink in an email, websites and search engines do not pay to provide links to third party websites,” Google wrote in a blog post. “It would be like requiring the telephone directory to pay businesses to be able to include them — it simply makes no sense.”

In response to Silva’s remarks, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to back down. “We don’t respond to threats,” he told reporters in Brisbane. “Australia makes our rules for things you can do in Australia. That’s done in our Parliament. It’s done by our government. And that’s how things work here in Australia.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.