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By Byron Kaye

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Facebook Inc will be "weakened" if it stops Australians from sharing news so the company can avoid paying for content under proposed laws, Australia's top antitrust regulator said on Thursday.

Australia has proposed forcing Facebook and internet search giant Google to pay local media outlets for content, drawing strong opposition from the U.

S. companies in a dispute that is being watched by regulators and news organisations around the world.

Facebook said this month it would stop Australians from sharing local and international news on its website if the proposal becomes law. The company and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) are still negotiating before the regulator makes a formal recommendation to the government.

"It would be a shame for Australian democracy (and) it would be a shame for Facebook users if they took that course of action," ACCC Chair Rod Sims said in a speech delivered via Zoom.

"It would also weaken Facebook, so it's their call," he added. "If people can't get their news from Facebook then they'll go elsewhere to get their news."

As traditional media outlets lose advertising revenue to internet giants, some countries have tried to find ways to make such companies pay for the traffic sent to their websites. But Sims said no model had been effective.

The proposal in Australia involves an arbitrator setting the payment terms if an internet company can't strike a deal with a local media outlet, a provision Facebook has said could force it to pay unlimited royalties.

A Facebook representative was not immediately available to comment on Thursday. Google has said that it has struck content deals with some Australian publishers, but has issued public warnings that the law may hurt its search service.

Sims said Australia's plan was not a tax on Big Tech or a subsidy for other companies, saying it was "a question of addressing a market power imbalance and one that matters to the future of our society".

"If you had a competitive market you wouldn't need this," he said.

If Facebook quit news sharing in Australia to avoid the law, the company "may get something worse" elsewhere, Sims added.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

Copyright 2020 Thomson Reuters.

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Google says it will pay news publishers $1B over next 3 years

Google will pay $1 billion over the next three years to global news publishers that it licenses content from.

It is a milestone moment for Google, which has for years been accused of taking advantage of publisher content while simultaneously siphoning off their ad revenue.

The new product, dubbed Google News Showcase, will roll out in Germany and Brazil, where it has signed up major newspapers, and will later extend to countries including India, Britain, Australia and Canada.

“This financial commitment – our biggest to date – will pay publishers to create and curate high-quality content for a different kind of online news experience,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a blog post .

Publishers will submit curated content to Showcase, which will be presented on the Google News app and websites.

“This approach is distinct from our other news products because it leans on the editorial choices individual publishers make about which stories to show readers and how to present them,” Pichai said.

Google in June announced that it would pay certain overseas publishers to license “high-quality” content, a move that arrived as it had been facing mounting scrutiny outside the US.

In April, France’s competition authority ordered Google to pay French publishers for using their content while Australia has said it will force the company and Facebook to share advertising revenue with local media groups.

Robert Thomson, chief executive of News Corp, which owns the New York Post and Wall Street Journal, released a statement praising the move.

“We applaud Google’s recognition of a premium for premium journalism and the understanding that the editorial eco-system has been dysfunctional, verging on dystopian,” he said. “There are complex negotiations ahead but the principle and the precedent are now established.”

With Post wires.

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