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Microsoft says U.S. should copy Australian law targeting Google and Facebook over news content

Microsoft likes Australia’s plan to make Google and Facebook pay local publishers for content included in search results or news feeds so much that the company believes the U.S. should adopt similar thinking.

“The United States should not object to a creative Australian proposal that strengthens democracy by requiring tech companies to support a free press. It should copy it instead,” Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Microsoft waded into the dispute down under earlier this month, when Google threatened to block its search engine in Australia over the proposed law, or “news media bargaining code,” as it’s called. Smith said at the time that Microsoft would never make such a threat.

Facebook has also warned that it would consider blocking Australians from sharing news on its platform if the law passes.

Smith used the occasion in his post to dive deeper on threats to democracy and journalism and the erosion of traditional news sources at the hands of the internet and social media. Microsoft also touted its MSN licensing agreements with 1,200 publishers worldwide, generating $1 billion in revenue for those publishers since 2014.

“The legislation will redress the economic imbalance between technology and journalism by mandating negotiations between these tech gatekeepers and independent news organizations,” Smith said. “The goal is to provide the news organizations with compensation for the benefit derived by tech gatekeepers from the inclusion of news content on their platforms.”

Microsoft’s Bing search engine could stand to benefit, whether the law is passed in Australia or gains traction elsewhere. Bing has less than 5% of the market share in Australia and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has said that Microsoft was ready to step in and expand Bing in Australia if Google pulls its search engine.

“With a realistic prospect of gaining usage share, we are confident we can build the service Australians want and need,” Smith wrote. “And, unlike Google, if we can grow, we are prepared to sign up for the new law’s obligations, including sharing revenue as proposed with news organizations. The key would be to create a more competitive market, something the government can facilitate.”

Update: Google responded on Thursday with its own blog post, saying that Microsoft’s claims have been “thoroughly and independently debunked.”

Microsoft’s take on Australia’s proposed law is unsurprising — of course they’d be eager to impose an unworkable levy on a rival and increase their market share,” wrote Kent Walker, SVP Global Affairs and Google’s chief legal officer.

Walker wrote that the law would “unfairly require unknown payments for simply showing links to news businesses, while giving, to a favored few, special previews of search ranking.”

“Those aren’t workable solutions and would fundamentally change the Internet, hurting the people and businesses who use it,” he said. “But there are better ways, and we’re committed to making progress.”

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